SCOTSDALE, ARIZONA (AP) – A scrawny 16-year-old from Augusta, Georgia, began a career that would stretch nearly two-and-a-half decades and more starts than he could ever dream in the fall of 1996 at a PGA Tour event that no longer exists.
Charles Howell III was a wunderkind prodigy going for Oklahoma State at the time, but no one could have predicted that the 1996 Buick Challenge at Pine Mountain, Georgia, would be the first of 600.
“I recall thinking to myself, ‘This kid is everything that everyone has said he is.’ Hugh Royer III, who was paired with Howell for Rounds 1 and 2 at the Buick, observed, “He played a different game than I did when I was 16.” “He was just one of those guys with that kind of talent, like Tiger [Woods].”
That week, Howell shot 80-75 and missed the cut. Since then, he’s made nearly three times as many cuts (461) as he’s missed (135), won three times, amassed $41 million in prize money, and established himself as the Tour’s ironman.
Howell, at 42, recognizes that this week’s WM Phoenix Open is more than simply another start in a long and illustrious career; it’s a watershed moment. In a recent interview, he revealed that 600 Tour starts were beyond the comprehension of the 16-year-old sensation.
“It’s not even close,” Howell added. “When you’re a child growing up in Augusta [Ga.], you always wanted to win the Masters because it’s the Masters and it’s right there, and it’s the biggest event.” Then there was the fact that all I wanted to do was play golf on the PGA Tour. 600 events were too much for that kid to comprehend. Even now, I can’t comprehend it.”
Howell attributes his longevity to fitness and a commitment to his art, but this week’s achievement goes far beyond a good diet and meticulous attention to detail. Howell, like so many others, benefited from Tiger Woods’ fame during his first full year on the Tour in 2000.
The bigger purses resulted in shortened careers for many of Howell’s generation. The urge to gain millions begins to subside after the first few million, but not for Howell.
“Going out and competing and playing demonstrates his love of the game.” “A lot of players have 300 [Tour starts] or something and retire – they choose to retire – but he really wants to play golf,” Royer explained.
Howell isn’t prone to sentimentality, but he confessed that No. 600 has caused him to ponder about his golf career.
“To be honest, I’m nostalgic,” he said. “My son is ten years old and plays competitive golf, and I remember playing competitive golf when I was ten.” “It’s only a matter of flipping the cycle over.”
Royer recalled a young athlete who was respectful, pleasant, and unique. “I look forward to seeing you; this is going to be great,” Royer told Howell after the group, which included John Elliott, finished the Buick Challenge on Friday.
“Howell, who is approaching 600 starts, recalls a career filled with plenty of “joy” and a fair amount of frustration. He has 16 runner-up results and 10 third-place finishes to go along with his three championships. Some have called him an underachiever because of the expectations he faced when he first went pro, but it dismisses so much of Howell’s career.
He paused in his post-round interview after his most recent Tour victory, the 2018 RSM Classic, to rub his calloused hands. It was an apt metaphor for a player who has been looking for answers in the soil since Bill Clinton’s presidency. You can call the resume into doubt, but never the effort.
This week’s event, for Howell, is a monument to that dedication and perseverance, which has now spanned generations.
He stated, “I’m not sure if it’s the victories that stand out.” “It’s the other competitors, the other players, the relationships you form, and the game of golf itself that stands out.” It has been my life, and it has provided me with both a life and a career.
“These are interesting times.” I had the opportunity to play competitive rounds with Tiger Woods and witness his victories up close. I was matched with Vijay Singh a number of times that year, and I kept thinking to myself, “He’s making winning nine times look extremely easy.”
Howell relocated to central Florida to a property in Isleworth shortly after turning pro, when he began a tumultuous association with Woods. He played in the Presidents Cup with Woods in 2003 and fell to him in a final-round duel at Torrey Pines in 2007, but a long career brings perspective.
“When I see how many tournaments other players have played in, it makes me admire their careers,” Howell joked. “I’ve virtually doubled Tiger Woods’ number of tournaments, and he’s smoked me in every category.”
Howell said he’ll wait till he’s back home with his family to celebrate. The sacrifices made by his family are as much a part of his journey as anything he’s accomplished on the course, he’s learned during the years on Tour.
“It’s unbelievable.” It’s been fantastic. “To be able to play golf for a career and to be out here this long,” he remarked, “I’ve been one of the luckiest guys in the world.”
It’s a passion for Howell that has lasted 600 events and counting.
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