Howell can see light again

Phil Casey discovers that David Howell is still in love with golf despite a slip down the rankings.

David Howell has experienced plenty of highs in his golfing career, from winning the British Boys Championship and Walker Cup to beating Tiger Woods down the stretch in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
He won two and a half points out of three in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory in 2006, having also appeared in the record triumph at Oakland Hills two years earlier.
But almost four years on from his last European Tour victory in the BMW PGA Championship, it is that win at Wentworth which remains the highlight as far as the 34-year-old from Swindon is concerned.
“I remember in the aftermath of winning that was the most contented I’d ever been with a golf performance,” said Howell. “That outshone beating Tiger.
“The Ryder Cup is brilliant obviously, but to win by five shots round Wentworth was magical. To shoot four rounds in the 60s (68 65 69 69) was my individual high point so far definitely.
“I went out knowing I had a great chance and the first nine holes I played flawlessly.”
Fast forward four years and the words “most contented” are replaced by “absolutely naff golf”, “miserable existence” and “deep down it hurts” as Howell candidly discusses his battles with injury, loss of form and slide down the world rankings.
From a place inside the top 10 in 2006, Howell is now 412th and, after finishing 156th on the money list last year, is reliant on his exemption from that win at Wentworth for his European Tour card.
Asked if he could imagine finding himself in such a position four years ago, Howell added: “At the time I’d just won two tournaments in nine events, was high on confidence and at the peak of my game; I would have found that surprising.
“Winning isn’t easy but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to predict the way the last four years have gone. It’s been really really difficult. I certainly got to a very low point at times and feel like I’ve just started to turn the corner hopefully.
“It’s amazing how things went. It’s hard to get the timing exactly in my mind, I can’t even remember when I split with my coach, Clive Tucker, it just came to a natural end and it wasn’t working any more. I then made numerous choices trying to find new coaches, no coaches, and ultimately it all took its toll.
“It was no fun playing, it was no fun practising. I still worked as hard as I could bearing in mind that no matter what I tried, I didn’t seem to improve. I tried not practising, I tried practising really hard, but the tour’s no fun if you’re not competing.
“It’s bad enough if you’re only finishing 30th every week and not getting the buzz of winning, but at least you’re making cuts, but when you’re missing cut after cut and your good weeks are finishing 50th then it’s a miserable existence.
“It’s very easy for sportsmen at times to sound like they are moaning and groaning about their wonderful life, but if you go to work every day and do it terribly, and are almost not qualified to do your job, obviously it’s very, very hard to take.
“You keep going, I still love what I do. I’ve tried to smile my way through it but I’ve got very low with it at times like anyone would. I could always put on a smile and a bright face but deep down it really hurts.”
Asked to pinpoint his lowest ebb, Howell added: “I can’t remember a particular week, the last few years just blended into one another, just rubbish really.
“In 2008 I finished 45th on the money list but that came about with just three decent weeks. The rest was pretty rubbish, so really it was three years of absolutely naff golf.”
The good news is that Howell is now seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, making six cuts in 12 starts this season and recording three top-20 finishes.
Not exactly earth shattering for a man who has gone toe to toe with Woods and won perhaps, but encouraging nonetheless.
“I’ve found my way back to Clive now,” Howell said. “We tried two or three times to get back together and it never seemed to work again but this year we’ve worked for three months now and I’m certainly benefiting from it, which is great.
“It doesn’t take long just to have a glimmer of better golf and my confidence returns pretty quickly and I remember that I can do it. You know deep down that it’s in there and it will come back if you work diligently on the right things.
“It’s not necessarily one score, it’s how you hit it and put your scores together. In Seville I played quite nicely in the first round and shot 74, I struggled on the greens but was not the only one.
“But I stuck in there and shot 66 the second day and finished off with three under the last day. It’s not tournament-winning golf but it’s not a million miles off challenging which is all important.”