Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Over the course of 21⁄2 whirlwind seasons, Charles Howell III made the game look so easy. The wispy Georgia native, who grew up in the shadow of Augusta National Golf Club, bolted from Oklahoma State in 2000 and quickly proved his potential exceeded even the most lofty expectations.
He bypassed Q-School like few had, earning special temporary status in 13 starts in 2000, and was crowned the Tour’s Rookie of the Year in ’01 after posting a workmanlike 14 top-25 finishes. His second full year was even better: He won his first title (Michelob Championship at Kingsmill) and finished in the top 30 in the three majors he played.
The predicted future of American golf had a 28-inch waist, relaxed demeanor and inviting Southern drawl. But somewhere on the way to his great red, white and blue rivalry with Tiger Woods, Howell’s path took an unexpected turn.
“Obviously, I haven’t won as many golf tournaments as I’d like to, or should,” Howell said. “That’s one thing I’m working hard to change.”
In 100 starts since his Michelob breakthrough, Howell has been surprisingly absent from victory lane. He has failed to earn a spot on a U.S. Ryder Cup team, and the closest he has come to winning a major was a tie for 10th at the 2003 PGA Championship.
To be fair, Howell’s career is hardly the stuff of sour dreams. He paired with Woods at the 2003 Presidents Cup, creating one of that event’s most talked-about tandems. He has never finished out of the top 35 on the money list, and has cashed enough checks to keep his hometown in azaleas for a long time.
But Howell knows better than most that a player’s career is measured in victories, not bank accounts.
“At the end of the day you’re judged by how many times you’ve won. And to take that a step further, how many majors did you win?” Howell said. “You think of guys like Nick Price and Greg Norman, you remember how many majors they’ve won rather than how many regular events they’ve won.”
Some consider the 5-foot-11, 155-pound Howell one of the Tour’s longest hitters pound-for-pound. His biggest weakness is his short game. He has never ranked higher than 113th on Tour in putts per round.
“My short game is something I’m still working on,” said Howell, who notes his putting average through his first six events this year has improved slightly. “A good shot is only as goodas a good putt.”
After 51⁄2 seasons, it’s easy to forget the 26-year-old is among the Tour’s youthful set. But with every finish back in the pack, the pressure to win builds.
“It does become a bit tough. It’s like, ‘Will Phil win a major?’ ” Howell said. “It’s in the back of your mind. ButI’ve always viewed (expectations) as compliments, because someone thinks you can play.”