Howell On The Verge

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Charles Howell III began his 2005 campaign in promising fashion at the Sony Open last week. After narrowly making the cut, Howell had the best weekend of anybody in the field'nine under'and climbed into a tie for third. His play on Saturday and Sunday is just what we expect to see from him every time he tees it up, yet as the 25-year-old enters just his fifth full-season on the PGA Tour, consistency seems to be the only thing consistently lacking.
 
Maybe the superlatives used to describe promising young players such as Charles are unfair. Maybe the expectations of greatness at such a young age can produce consequences. Maybe the PGA Tour is harder than we think, and harder than Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia , Adam Scott, and other young players have made it look. Or maybe, the aforementioned players are just that gifted. Or maybe, just maybe, all of this is just hogwash and Charles is underachieving. Good food for thought, or even debate perhaps, but answers are tough to discern. Wait, I think I still have Dionne Warwick on speed-dial.
 
Ring. Ring. Ring. A scratchy female voice answers: Hello, you've reached the Psychic Friends Network. What is your credit card number, please?
 
Me: Will Charles Howell III ever live up to his hype?
 
Dionne, or similar: Even the pundits say he should, the analysts are still singing his praises 'When was my last singing hit, by the way?' and he's still young enough to have a great career. Remember, this is only his fifth season, and his world ranking, his position on the money list recently, and his peers opinions all point to success for Chuckie three sticks. Let me glare into my crystal ball for a moment. Oops, it's getting a bit hazy. Anybody have some Visine? What was your credit card number again?
 
Me: When will he start to win consistently?
 
A suddenly defensive psychic replies: It could be soon, very soon. But remember, soon can be somewhat subjective. Maybe in the big picture, soon is this week, or this decade, or perhaps even this lifetime. Speaking of lifetimes, do you have Shirley MacLaine's number handy? I'm wondering if I'll go platinum in my next life, or a former one, or did I in this one? Expiration date please?
 
Me: Thanks Dionne. How's the weather in San Jose? Loved you in Rent-A-Cop. You've been helpful. The check's in the mail.
 
Click.
 
So what does the future hold for Charles Howell III? Ultimately, only time will tell. The clock certainly hasn't begun to accelerate its clicking yet, and nobody on the PGA Tour or closely associated with it thinks there's any sense of urgency for Charles to start producing multiple victories yet. The prevailing sentiment is still similar to that which surrounded David Duval as late as 1996'When he starts to win, look out.
 
Charles has one win'the 2002 Michelob Championship'and six career runner-up finishes. He seems to be right on the brink of contention just about every week. He never seems to struggle with any part of his game for more than a week. And he leaves no stone unturned in his preparation to be the best. So what's missing?
 
The PGA Tour is hard. The difference from winning and guys losing their card is not very much, Charles told me recently. I want people to think that I'm supposed to play well, that I'm supposed to win. That's far better than them not expecting me to do well. I think that late last year I saw a few flaws in my game and I'm glad that I didn't play well enough to mask them. I've been working on my game very hard in the off-season, and I feel like I'm going to play well this year.
 
Charles ended the interview by lamenting that he knows time is still on his side. It's a long year on tour. If I get off to a good start, that'll be great, but if I don't, I know I'll still have plenty of chances.
 
The only thing that Charles seems to be missing is W's. That will surely change. Hopefully, it will happen before he has to answer more questions like mine regarding why he hasn't done so yet. But even if it doesn't, in time, he'll get his share.
 
Up at the crack of dawn for an extended workout with his trainer. Then, practice all day (often under the watchful eye of David Leadbetter). Followed by practice at his in-home studio with video cameras and computer analysis. All the while, no real hobbies, not so much as a drop of alcohol, and no other vices of any type. It sounds like a single-minded focus with only one true objective, and it appears exactly that way. So what's the payoff?
 
Well, it's been this way since I was about seven years old, and I hope to be doing exactly the same thing 'til the day I die. Golf is my hobby. This life'this golfing life'is all he's ever known.
 
Charles gives the impression that victories would be nice, but not as essential as we might assume. His self esteem isn't inexorably linked to his trophy case'he's too nice, too modest for that. I just want to keep improving, he said. Everything else will take care of itself.
 
And when it does, we'll all be shouting I told you so. After all, that's what friends are for.
 
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