Howell opens up after Alfred Dunhill Links triumph
AFTER 2,679 days and 201 tournaments without a victory, David Howell stood on the 18th green of St Andrews' glorious old course with a chance to right seven years of wrongs.
In front of him stood an eight-foot putt for birdie which would see off Peter Uihlein in a sudden-death play-off and guarantee Howell the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship title, renewed access to a wealth of the world’s top tournaments, an outside chance of making next year’s Ryder Cup, a shade under £500,000 and - perhaps most importantly - solace.
It had been a long, undulating ride for Howell between the dizzy heights of outshooting Tiger Woods to win the HSBC Champions event in China in 2006 and a dismal run of form in 2009 which saw the Swindon golfer make less than a third of all available cuts.
Having worked through problems both personal and professional, with a new coach on board in Jonathan Wallet and with wife Emily and baby son Freddie by his side, however, Howell has found redemption in his own game.
A renaissance over the past 18 months finally produced the masterpiece a lot of soul-searching has warranted when Howell sank that eight-footer in the dying September sunshine on Scotland’s most famous links - and the Broome Manor man recounted to the Advertiser just what his emotions were as he watched his ball fall from sight.
“It was a real sense of satisfaction on all levels, from the fact that I’d never won a play-off and it was my fifth effort to having not won for seven years, which is a really long time for a sportsman. It felt really good,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to react. I didn’t know if I was going to go ballistic or cry or whatever, but in the end one fist-pump seemed to do.
“There was just an overwhelming sense of relief and satisfaction.
“I was fortunate in that it was another big event and I can take great satisfaction from that.”
A while ago you could have been forgiven for suggesting Howell would never win on the European Tour again.
His fall from grace was quick and unforgiving, from being part of two Ryder Cup sides he was now fighting for his tour card and battling against a world ranking of 367.
In recent months, however, with Wallet’s help and the support of Emily and caddy Steve Brotherhood, the tide has turned.
“The way I’ve been playing the last two years meant I felt confident I had it in me to win another event,” he said.
“For four years I was not playing good enough golf to deserve to be in with a chance of winning, but in recent months I have felt more than capable of winning.
“What I kept believing in is that some day soon it was going to go my way. I’ve had a few close calls in tournaments recently where it’s just been one or two holes that have caused me problems, and at some point I was certain they’d fall in my favour.
“When I look back at Sunday, it was the first time in a long time that everything has gone my way.”
Howell is a popular man on the European Tour - well respected and often relied upon to lighten the mood.
No wonder, then, that he was inundated by congratulatory messages in the minutes after his victory.
“By the time I got in my courtesy car after the press conference I had 142 texts, about 35 emails and 10 voicemails,” he said.
“I have just about replied to every one of them now but the trouble was when I replied, they’d reply to my reply and I’ve spent about three days on my iPhone.
“It’s been really nice to have people from all over the world get in touch and I guess that’s what you get with modern technology. It’s nice to have that support.”
While money may be the headline - and £500,000 can certainly go a long way - Howell is more delighted by how many doors this win opens.
Entries to the USPGA, The Open and the US Open are now within his grasp, while access to other major ranking events in the next year will give him a chance to return to the European side which is due to take on the USA in 2014.
“What it does to my schedule is the big thing. I’ll still play in Portugal next week but I was looking at having to play in Perth just to try and keep myself in the top 60,” he said.
“Now I can play all four of the final big events of the year and then there’s a chance at the NedBank in South Africa and the Volvo Championships at the start of the next calendar year.
“I’m not quite sure of the Open but I think the top 20 or 25 get in, and it lets me look towards the US Open if I can have a good couple of weeks.
“Without getting too far ahead of myself, I’m 94th in the world now and the top 100 would get into the USPGA.
“The next goal is to get back into the top 50. I’m going in the right direction.”
So, who does Howell thank for his battle back to the top?
“Emily I have to credit with giving me all the off-course support I could possibly need, and that is perhaps the most important thing,” he said.
“Jon Wallet, my coach of two years, has really changed the way I think about my game and he’s given me some key mental pointers which have really got me playing the right way.
“It’s our first win and that means a lot as well.
“Steve Brotherhood, my caddy, has got really on board with everything we’ve been doing and he’s been willing to learn as well.
“My sponsors have come along for the ride and they took a bit of a gamble on me when I was on my way back but not at the heights I was at before.
“They’ve all played a big part in this. They showed a lot of faith in me and they had that faith rewarded on Sunday.”
It’s just as well Howell came in for a massive payday, really. The 38-year-old is expecting twins with Emily in December. Not that he intends to spoil his new-borns.
“I’m very, very fortunate to be involved in a sport which offers very large sums of money, I’m well aware of the benefits that can bring,” he said. “We won’t be lording around like millionaires. Most of that money will probably end up going on school fees anyway.”
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