Deadhead caddie with a 2 handicap Fluff: In the aura that is Tiger Woods', Mike Cowan is attracting attention and a gallery all his own.

June 11, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BETHESDA -- Funny how things work out. You do the same thing for nearly half your life and nobody notices. Then suddenly you go to work for a star and you become one yourself.

The spotlight -- no, make that the aura -- that surrounds Tiger Woods these days has turned Mike "Fluff" Cowan into the PGA Tour's latest and greatest caddie celebrity. It has followed him to Congressional Country Club for the 97th U.S. Open.

It's a position that Cowan, who just might be the only 2-handicap Deadhead in the country, shrinks from one moment and concedes to the next. Just follow him around the tour for a couple of weeks and see.

There's Cowan at the TPC at Los Colinas outside Dallas a couple of hours before the third round of last month's Byron Nelson Classic. A reporter introduces himself and says that his editors in Baltimore are interested in a story.

"Tell your editors you couldn't find me," Cowan says in his raspy voice, a byproduct of his New England roots and his one pack-a-day cigarette habit. "But thanks anyway."

There's Cowan at the Muirfield Village Golf Club outside Columbus, Ohio, after the first round of the recent Memorial Tournament. Woods is about 20 feet away signing autographs.

A bunch of fans make a similar request of Cowan.

"We love you, Fluff Go get 'em, Fluff Way to go, Fluff."

Begrudgingly, he signs a few and leaves as Woods makes his way to the practice tee.

A couple of reporters want to know if, and when, Cowan would be available to talk.

"I'll be here at 8 [a.m.] tomorrow," he says.

Jacobsen gave blessing

It all happened because Peter Jacobsen pulled up lame last summer. The back strain and bulging disk that had bothered Jacobsen during the first tournament of the year finally sidelined him the last two months.

It was about the same time that Woods, coming off his third straight U.S. Amateur championship and ready to turn pro, was looking for a regular tour caddie. He called Cowan.

"He told me he was going to play in the last seven tournaments," recalls Cowan, 49. "I talked to Peter and he couldn't have been nicer. He said, 'You have a chance to work for a kid who could be one of the great players.' "

It was, by all accounts, a tearful breakup.

Fluff cried.

Jake consoled.

"Someone asked me if I was mad at Fluff for leaving," says Jacobson. "I told them that the only thing I was mad about was that Tiger didn't ask me to caddie for him."

Cowan, who had played golf at William Penn College in Iowa and had been an assistant pro at a club back home in Auburn, Maine, knew his life was about to change. He just didn't imagine how much.

"It's crazy, absolutely crazy," Cowan said Monday afternoon, standing in a parking lot while conducting an impromptu news conference with a couple of reporters and a number of fans. "Sometimes you do feel like the fifth Beatle."

Until Woods came along, Cowan's life as a caddie was not much different than most. He estimates he has worked for some 40 players since coming out to work the Monday qualifying round at the Greater Hartford Open in 1976.

But most of the time had been working for Jacobsen, a pleasant man known more for imitating the mannerisms of his fellow tour players rather than his own accomplishments that include six wins and over $4.6 million in earnings.

"All you guys ever saw of Peter was on the outside," says Cowan, who once lived with Jacobsen and his family and remains on good terms with his former boss. "You never saw what was on the inside."

The same might be said for Cowan, who seems as hard as his Rs but is really well, Fluff, inside. All the recent attention, including reports of his own endorsement deal for a line of sunglasses and maybe a book, has barely made a dent on his personality.

"It doesn't mean much," says Cowan. "I understand it, but I don't really get it. All I do is clean 'em. I don't hit 'em."

If it was only that simple. As awesome a talent as Woods is, dTC Cowan's background on the tour, and his own proficiency as a player, have helped in the success that has produced five wins in Woods' first 20 events.

"Tiger is a great player, but I don't know if he would have done what he is doing here without Fluff," Paul Azinger said after playing with Woods during his historic 12-shot win at this year's Masters. "He is invaluable for any player, especially a young player."

Says Jacobsen, "I hope Tiger is listening to him. If he is as smart as he appears to be, he is. I know how much a guy like Fluff meant to me and I didn't have anywhere near the talent that Tiger does."

Player in own right

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