Charles Howell III reflects on 600 PGA TOUR starts
12 Min Read
Veteran pro is making his 600th PGA TOUR start at WM Phoenix Open
Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR
Charles Howell III on the evolution of the PGA TOUR ahead of his 600th start
PGATOUR.COM: How have you lasted so long on TOUR?
HOWELL: No. 1, love of the game. I know that statement probably gets overused a bit, but what I mean is loving the good with the bad. Anytime people are having success and doing well, it’s easy to like it, but you also need to love the bad, and know it’s going to lead to the good.
PGATOUR.COM: They say timing is everything; could you have picked a better era?
HOWELL: No. Absolutely not. I was in my apartment in Stillwater, Oklahoma, toward the end of my junior year in college, and David Leadbetter, who I was working with at the time, we spoke often, he said, ‘Are you ready to turn pro?’ And my heart stopped because I hadn’t even considered it. And David said, ‘Well, you’re a golfer, and golf has never been hotter and booming, and this is what you’re going to do. I think it’s time you turn pro and move on.’ I still remember that phone call like it was yesterday.
PGATOUR.COM: When he said the game was hot, he was referencing a certain iconic player?
HOWELL: Looking back now, having played golf in the Tiger Woods, and I’m going to call it the Phil Mickelson era, too, was incredible. I’m quite sure that the Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Gary Player era was also special, but to play in the Tiger era with what he did for television and the exposure of it, I mean he gave me a job. I couldn’t have picked a better time.
PGATOUR.COM: What have you done with all the equipment you’ve gone through?
HOWELL: The vast majority I donate to either the First Tee program or other junior programs in the area. We’ve reached out, ‘Hey, do you guys need equipment? What do you need? What are you interested in?’ Now, my son, Chase, who is starting to get very interested in the game, sadly, he’s lefthanded. So, I have all these righthanded clubs, and now here I am buying golf clubs again. I tried my best to turn him righthanded, it just never worked.
PGATOUR.COM: You could ask for help from Mike Weir (2003 Nissan Open) and Phil Mickelson (’07 Nissan Open), whom you’ve lost to and beaten, respectively, in sudden-death playoffs.
HOWELL: Exactly. He’s 10 years old, which is crazy because that’s the age I was when I started working with David Leadbetter. Now to kind of see it go full circle; I remember around his age I wanted to play professional golf. It’s absolutely crazy that time has gone that fast.
PGATOUR.COM: And what about your daughter?
HOWELL: My daughter is Ansley and she’s 11. She’s not a golfer; she’s more interested in the gymnastics side of things, so clearly she’s more athletic than me.
PGATOUR.COM: I believe you gave your mom a funny quote when you were a teen-ager – ‘Girls cause bogeys’ – which spoke to your singlemindedness to be a TOUR pro. Was it what you expected?
HOWELL: Yes and no. I wanted to play on the PGA TOUR; I never wanted to be the best. But I didn’t realize it was going to be my life, in as much as all the playing competitors, coaches, trainers, staff, we’re a traveling circus, and we see each other every single week, we all have each other’s cell phone numbers and we’re friends. That’s the part I never would have thought about until now; the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve made through golf is something I just would have never thought.
PGATOUR.COM: Who became your besties?
HOWELL: Bo Van Pelt and Carl Pettersson. We’ve had the phone calls of ‘Good playing,’ and also the phone calls of, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening?’ The game humbles all of us, balancing a family and a career, the travel. Also, Steve Stricker and David Toms have been great to me.
PGATOUR.COM: When did you feel especially humbled by the game?
HOWELL: In 2006, I missed, I believe it was five or six cuts in a row. That was one of the first times I had really struggled. It was the reality of, Oh, my gosh, I need to step back a bit and figure out what’s going on. And I won Riviera at the start of the next season. We all do things we think are going to make us better, whether it’s a swing change, or something in the gym, and when you look back it might’ve made us worse. You learn these lessons. We do crazy things trying to shoot lower scores.
PGATOUR.COM: What turned it around?
HOWELL: I had completely forgotten that I started playing golf as a kid – I was 7 when I first picked up a club – because I like it. That’s been the constant lesson I’ve had to remind myself of over the years. You get really hung up on results and things can spiral out of control at times.
PGATOUR.COM: Did you have freakish hand-eye coordination? Did your first instructor insist on a perfect grip? What are you most thankful for that got you going down the right path?
HOWELL: No. 1 is family support. Without that, I would’ve had absolutely nothing. No. 2 is my dad always knew the importance of instruction. I was very lucky in that I always had a golf teacher, all the way through, from the time I was very young. I learned something from every one of them. I tell parents to find your kid a teacher from a young age, because that eliminates a lot of bad habits that they’ll have to fix down the road. That part is so important. You see it today; these kids are so well-coached. They know what they’re doing with technique, they know what they’re doing in the gym.
PGATOUR.COM: Who is your coach these days?
HOWELL: I work with Andy Plummer now, he’s in Miami. We’ve been together a couple years. I owe each and every instructor a thank you. Like I said, I’ve learned something from all of them.
PGATOUR.COM: What are you guys working on? Because last season you finished 139th in the FedExCup, which is the first time you’d ever missed the Playoffs in the FedExCup era.
HOWELL: I played fewer tournaments last year than ever. A lot of that had to do with wanting to spend more time with my family, my kids. So, our goal is to get more out of fewer tournaments. We’ve spent most of our time on the course working on shots that make me a little uncomfortable, thinking about scoring, situations. I’ve done more on-course work than I’ve done in the past. Admittedly I love the driving range; I love hitting balls. At times I’ve gotten over-obsessed with mechanics and never thought through, OK, how am I going to transfer this to shooting a lower score? That’s one thing about the younger generation, is they don’t get bogged down in mechanics.
PGATOUR.COM: You mentioned your son is starting to get very interested in the game. Would you recommend this life to him if he wanted to follow in your footsteps?
HOWELL: I would if he loves it. I would never, ever force it on him or push him in that direction. Because in golf there are a lot more days of failure than success. It can beat you up and make you question everything, and it can be really lonely, but if he loves it, then I’ll do every single thing in my power to help him play as well as he possibly can. I do get motivation from the younger players. Viktor Hovland, he played at Oklahoma State, and at times he’s felt like a little brother to me. Being around the younger guys, with their energy and passion for it, has been quite motivational.
PGATOUR.COM: Have you talked to Viktor since he won the Dubai Desert Classic and rose to world No. 3?
HOWELL: Only text. He was on an Emirates flight back to America. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
PGATOUR.COM: You taught him everything he knows, right?
HOWELL: Hopefully he listened to nothing I told him. As long as he didn’t listen to me, he’s good.
PGATOUR.COM: What’s overrated, what’s underrated on TOUR?
HOWELL: The answer for both is travel. When you get on a long stretch and you’re going to the places that aren’t your favorite, it’s overrated. But it’s also underrated in a sense that I’ve gotten a chance to travel, literally the world, the last 22 years. I remember in 2019 I took my family to Asia. I played in the events over there, but before and after the events we went to Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall of China, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Tokyo. Those are the memories I look back on as being so awesome, and I think, man, I would have never been able to do something that were it not for golf.
PGATOUR.COM: Any regrets?
HOWELL: Looking back, I wish I would have won more. I have a whole lot of second- and third-place finishes. And obviously I still have some years left in me, hopefully, and can find a way to win some more. That’d be the one little regret I have, for sure.
PGATOUR.COM: That’s a lot of close calls. However, there’s a flip side to it, because your 227 top-25 finishes, against the very best golfers on the planet, also speaks to your consistency.
HOWELL: Well, yes. That’s always the other side of the coin. No one is going to stand up in line sooner than me, wishing he would have won more. I think, holy cow, I have 26 seconds and thirds. If I’d have won even half of those, it would have been a phenomenal career. Also, though, playing in the Tiger era, he made it look so easy. Vijay Singh won nine times in a season in 2004. I remember thinking, Oh, my gosh. That’s incredible. I look back at some of these guys, I truly admire what they did. I’m just as much a fan of golf as I am a player. I wish I would have found a way to win more. Hopefully I still can.
PGATOUR.COM: What course should fit your game that somehow didn’t?
HOWELL: Ooh, that’s a great question. I had a pattern: I tended to play nice on the West Coast, not great in the summer, and then I played nice in the fall. That was my pattern for a long time. I would have thought I’d have played better in the summer months. You know my answer? Muirfield Village, the Memorial, I love everything about the place from the driving range to the course, and I just never played well there. I never really cracked the code on not playing that well in the summer.
PGATOUR.COM: Most unforgettable moment?
HOWELL: Without a doubt the first Masters I played in, in 2002. Growing up in Augusta, going to the tournament as a kid every year, and actually playing my way into the tournament – the first tee was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life, without question.
PGATOUR.COM: What stands out to you regarding the way the game has evolved at the highest level?
HOWELL: Guys are so good now it’s scary. The big thing of note is what the cuts are. Tournaments where the cut used to be even or 1 under, it’s now 4 and 5 under. Tiger put the blueprint out there on how to be successful, and now you have all these kids that did it and are successful. Scoring in general, pick a tournament, and it will take your breath away how good scoring is.
PGATOUR.COM: And how has Charles Howell III evolved?
HOWELL: The realization that golf is played in 18 holes in a tournament, and all my work has to be focused on how I can shoot lower. At times my practice would be a little bit reactionary, bouncing around to work on driving or short game or whatever I didn’t do well that day. I’ve become more focused on score, with a lot of focus on short irons, wedges and short game.
PGATOUR.COM: Here’s a trip back in the time capsule: You’re a junior golfer, and as the best player from the East you’re playing against the top guy from the West, Boyd Summerhays, at the Canon Cup in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. That was the first time I saw you play.
HOWELL: Isn’t it awesome to see Boyd out on TOUR coaching Tony Finau?
PGATOUR.COM: Don’t Boyd’s kids both play for Arizona State?
HOWELL: They do, and his daughter, Grace, I don’t know if you’ve seen her at all, but, Oh, my gosh. She is awesome. His son Preston gets a lot of the attention, and he deserves it, he got a spot in (this week’s WM Phoenix Open) and is going to play, but Grace, his daughter, I’m telling you – what she’s going to do in the women’s game is going to be something, because she is special.
PGATOUR.COM: Unluckiest break of your career?
HOWELL: The last hole at Torrey Pines, Farmers Insurance Open, 2005, I believe I was one or two back of Tiger, my third shot flew in the hole and bounced out and went in the water. Now, an asterisk to that: I’d have wanted the ball to stay in the hole to watch Tiger eagle the last hole to win. [Laughs] I knew I wasn’t going to win the tournament, but I wanted to see how he was going to beat me. (Editor’s note: Howell bogeyed the hole to tie for second, three back. Had the ball stayed in the hole, Howell would have finished regulation at 16 under, forcing a playoff with Woods.)
PGATOUR.COM: Luckiest break?
HOWELL: My luckiest break is when I turned pro, I had no idea how difficult this life was going to be. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to play on the PGA TOUR. My luckiest break was being young and dumb. Had I thought what it would take to support a family out here for twenty-plus years, I might have talked myself right out of it and into a finance career on Wall Street. I was a bit naïve.
Cameron Morfit began covering the PGA TOUR with Sports Illustrated in 1997, and after a long stretch at Golf Magazine and golf.com joined PGATOUR.COM as a Staff Writer in 2016. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.