He had dropped out of Oklahoma State to turn pro, having foregone the messy experience of attending the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. Maybe it was the third-place finish at the John Deere Classic, and the subsequent $176,000 check, that deluded him into thinking this would be an easy assignment. To get his card in the seven tournaments that were allowed to give him a sponsors exemption shouldnt be too tough. All he had to do was make as much enough money to get to No. 125 - slightly more than $390,000.
He was so wrong. It turned into a near-impossible task. Today he has recovered nicely, solidly inside No. 125, No. 49 in the World Rankings, going for a spot in the Tour Championship. But he will never forget last year.
Last year was so exciting, he recalls the boyish experience. It was like, Look whos out here on driving range, I just saw Davis Love, or, I saw Phil Mickelson eating a hamburger.
It went the whole gamut, from, Its going to be easy, to, Oh my goodness, now what are you going to do?
Howell didnt get his card. And when this year started, he didnt have any status again, having missed in qualifying school.
Suddenly, though, he remembered those days as an all-America at Oklahoma State, and he began to roll ' and roll and roll. He still isnt officially a member of the PGA Tour, but the rules have been re-written three times to make sure that when next season begins, he will be eligible for everything.
Im No. 126 on the number, detailing the manner in which the PGA Tour had dealt with his case. Because of a rules change, Ill be in the invitationals ' the Players Championship, Bay Hill, Memorial, Colonial and WorldCom. Ill get into those as an add-on to the field. The TPC, for example ' instead of 125, they will take 126. Ill be an add-on to the Tour Championship if I qualify ' itll be a 31-man field.
Before, it was such that I could have, for example, finished second at the International, second at the PGA, I could have qualified for the Ryder Cup team and finished second the rest of the year out, and I would still be a non-member next year and not gotten into any invitationals next year.
Howell showed up at the National Car Rental Classic at Disney Tuesday clad in Jesper Parnevik duds. His skinny build, 5-feet-11 and only 153 pounds, was covered with a closely cut gold-color shirt and slender, form-fitting black slacks. In fact, he says hes about to sign an endorsement contract with Parneviks clothesmaker.
I wont have the Jesper extreme look, but I will wear basically the same type of clothing, Howell said.
In the world of basketball, for example, if youre a Dennis Rodman look-alike, you have to pierce 15 different body parts and dye your hair 37 different colors. In golf, if you wear something like this, youre set apart a little bit and suddenly youre different. Im skinny enough where that I make even these pants look baggy. And I like the look.
Howell draws the line, however, at Jespers pink. You wont see me in pink, he said definitively. Youll see me in a lot of black and khaki and blue and gray. But pink ' no.
One goal puts him in an awfully large group, however. He, like every other golfer on the PGA Tour, is chasing Tiger Woods.
Oh yeah, Tiger is definitely the standard, he said. He is definitely the best, and hes the standard in every facet of the game. Hes the best golfer in the world, and hes someone I definitely look up to and want to pattern myself after.