Sexual harassment has dominated the headlines recently so it’s little surprise that leading golf coach Pete Cowen prefers to teach male golfers.


By Lewine Mair

Sexual harassment has dominated the headlines recently so it’s little surprise that leading golf coach Pete Cowen prefers to teach male golfers.

Alison Nicholas, who has a British Open and a US Open under her belt, is one of the most respected golfers in the UK. Not just because of her major championship status but because of how she followed up on her playing career with a PGA/Birmingham University degree course.

One way and another, it made this fully qualified teaching professional the perfect person to contribute to the recent debate on coaching. The debate in question started after Pete Cowen, one of the world’s leading coaches, had turned down an invitation to teach a couple of highly-ranked LPGA players. He told them that he was too busy to take on any more pupils, which was absolutely true. However, the more he thought about it, the more he knew that even had he been sitting in Yorkshire with his feet up, he would not have wanted to go down that road.

With all the furore about show business people and politicians being hauled over the coals for inappropriate behaviour - hands on knees and a whole lot worse - Cowen felt that a golf coach could very easily find himself in a no-win situation.

“All this political correctness we’re hearing about on a daily basis is good in many ways but it’s bad news for women’s sport in general and golf in particular,” he told Global Golf Post.

“Look at me on the range. I’m always pushing and pulling players in one direction or another to show where they need to be at different times in the swing. In this day and age, though, you can’t risk doing that to a girl.''

“Just imagine how it would be if she was tough to teach and you felt that the relationship wasn’t working. You’d worry about getting rid of her in case she turned on you. She could easily say you touched her hips inappropriately, or something like that and, before you knew it, her remarks would be all over social media.”

''Once someone makes that kind of an accusation, it doesn’t go away. I’ve read of a lot of cases along these lines. Of course there are occasions when a girl might have good reason for her complaints, but there are an awful lot of times when the coach is 100% innocent.''

''Sadly, even when his innocence has been proven, it doesn’t stop people from being suspicious of him going forward.” When Cowen’s thoughts were first aired, there were plenty to offer sympathy. Among the sympathisers was an American gentleman who voiced his concern. “Because of the few women who may concoct a story, many women lose the opportunity to have a good coach. Personally, I would not step near a female where touching is a necessary component of instruction in any sport. Too many potholes on that road…”

Against that, there were a few angry remarks to the effect that Cowen was getting carried away with what he was saying.

Did he not know that the number of women who concocted complaints out of nowhere - whatever the line of business - was absolutely minimal? (The answer, here was that Cowen was not armed with facts and figures on a subject where most people prefer to withhold their names and stay silent. He was merely airing his personal views at a time when there were fresh stories of inappropriate behaviour every five minutes.)



David Leadbetter, who nowadays concentrates on teaching women, had no problem in seeing where Cowen was coming from. He himself had never previously thought about the potential dangers for, as he said, he had always considered the coaching he does as an extension of teaching his wife, Kelly and his daughter Hally.

“It’s always been a piece of cake. But there’s a lot of funny business going on around the world today and of course it makes sense to tread a little warily. “When you’re teaching, you will quite often grab hold of someone’s hips to show them something. Maybe, he added - and he was not speaking wholly in jest - there will come a day when a pupil has to sign something before you give him or her a lesson.”

Cowen has talked to other coaches in the UK who share his concerns. Away from golf, he tells of a national swimming coach of his acquaintance who has explained how he is lucky enough, as a national coach, to have an official at his side at all times. The official in question is not there just to protect the pupils but to protect him.

The aforementioned Alison Nicholas says that the paucity of women teaching professionals is a problem in itself.

“When I first started attending coaching seminars, all the rest of the attendees would be men. Today, if I’m at one of these events, there might be two women in any twelve-strong group but seldom any more.”

Nicholas says that it is not just the Cowens of this world who are expressing worries about what goes into teaching: trainers and physiotherapists have kindred concerns.

“The trouble with golf,” she said, “is that it’s a very hands-on game. Coaches have to make doubly sure that the way they are coaching is appropriate. “

Nicholas fears that the 2017 newspaper headlines will have prompted a lot of over-reaction in a far wider variety of areas than applies at the moment.

“People could well start making claims concerning the way they’re being taught golf. After all, in this litigious society, everyone blames everyone for everything.”

That much, no-one can deny.

The above is an extract from the latest issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale now. Never miss an issue click here to subscribe and enjoy W&G delivered to your door.