Howell targets career resurgence
DAVID Howell is rediscovering the style and conviction that catapulted him to golfing fame just less than a decade ago, and with it Swindon’s king of the fairways is finding his cheeky grin once more.
It is with his trademark, slightly tilted smile that the former Ryder Cup star and ex-world number nine greets me back where it all began - Broome Manor.
Howell is taking time out from his resurgence on the course, his regular cameos on Sky Sports and his jet-setting between homes in Dubai and Surrey to make an appearance at an event marking the retirement of local stalwart Barry Sandry.
He cuts a very relaxed figure - as well he might after a recent series of results which have made a mockery of three years of missed cuts and, in his own words, “angry golf”.
Since May, Howell has got through the halfway stage of 12 of 13 tournaments on the European Tour, compared to just four of his first 11 events this season, and currently sits 70th in the Race to Dubai.
While he may still be targeting a top-60 finish in 2012, it remains a remarkable upturn in form following a Saharan-esque barren spell that started in 2009 and meandered slowly and painfully through the ensuing 24 months.
As the 37-year-old munches on a pasty, he tells me that he has aspirations to climb even higher up both the Order of Merit and the world rankings and perhaps write a story that will go down in the sport’s folklore.
And he is using as inspiration three of this year’s victorious European Ryder Cup team and their own comeback stories.
“People like to talk about those stories where people come back from a slump and if I can be one of those stories that would be great,” he said.
“Everyone’s talking about Paul Lawrie’s resurgence and when (Lee) Westwood came out of his slump, now Sergio (Garcia) is coming back up.
“I’ve always been pretty good at seeing one stage at a time but it’s possible. It’s not likely, let’s face facts, I’m 37 now. But Paul Lawrie goes to show what can be done. He’s playing the best golf of his life, never mind his Major Championship 10 years ago, he’s playing the most the consistent golf of his life aged 43.
“Golf’s great like that, there is no real age limit as long as your health continues to be good and that’s the wonderful thing.
“If I do do it I’m sure I’ll do it bit by bit and my goal for this year was top 60, but I do feel I’m due another really good week and if I get that then I feel I’ll achieve that.
“You can go from top 60 to top 40 to top 20 or 30. It needs to be gradual improvement but the way I’ve played the last three months it’s do-able.
“If I played like I have the last three months for the next two years then I’ll be ranked much higher in all aspects than I am now.
“We can only wait to find out whether then last few months have been a bit of a purple patch or whether that is now my new average.
“I’d love to play in another Ryder Cup, I’d love to play well enough to get up there and be secure in my job and have the highs of playing well. It’s all about putting low enough scores on the board.
“It’s do-able but I’m not banking on it. I’ve had a big slump, if the next five years pan out that I’m playing top 70 golf, and I’ve got no divine right to be in the top 20, it would still be a great addition to what has become a long career.
“I wouldn’t be satisfying but it would be fun enough to continue doing it.
“Where I am right now is somewhere near the minimum requirement for me to really enjoy my job. If I go below that and I’m just trying to keep my card that would become stressful again and it’s nicer playing professional golf not in a stressful state but in an enjoyable zone.”
It’s fair to say Howell has had to deal with plenty of inner anguish since coming to the attention of golf’s global audience with a break-out 2004 season which included a Ryder Cup appearance at Oakland Hills.
Having dealt with the dizzy heights of the world’s top 10 and lonely depths of the bottom half of the scoreboard, the 37-year-old knows both of golf’s emotional extremes all too well.
He said: “I probably got to a point where I realised that, if my exemptions ran out and I continued to finish 150th or 170th on tour, would I want to go to the Challenge Tour and try to fight my way back?
“My gut feeling is I would always want to do that. I’m a golfer at heart and I want to play on tour as long as I can at a decent level.
“However, playing as poorly as I was, nothing was fun. It was just stressful, it was horrible and having something to fall back on, which is the TV thing which has been building, is a safety net perhaps and you start to think ‘doing that might be more fun when the golf is just so dire’.
“But my plan A was to stop playing so dire and play better - nothing outweighs playing nicely on tour. If I do that until I’m 55 and into the Seniors’ Tour, that’s the way my life will go.
“I don’t want to go into TV but it’s something there that is fun to do on the side, and I don’t want it to be any more than that. If it needed to be of course there are worse things to do and I’d be very lucky to do that.
“But I never got the point where I thought ‘I don’t want to do this any more’.
“Had I played another couple of years, if this year had gone poorly again and next year, I’m sure I probably would have got to that point. But I’ve done all I can in my power to turn things around and fortunately that seems to be happening.”
That Howell does not see his future in front of the camera comes as something of a surprise, given his natural talent for the role and evident appeal to viewers.
However, he is determined to forge a successful end to an already distinguished career - and perhaps even get the chance to grace the European set-up in the biennial shin-dig with our cousins from across the Atlantic.
“It’s the cherry. That’s not what’s driving me on a daily basis. I’m constantly thinking about my golf and how I’m going to get better. What’s driving me at the moment is rebuilding my career,” he said.
“Anyone on tour is good enough to perform in a Ryder Cup and win or lose points but I’m not getting up every morning and thinking ‘I’ve got to get in the Ryder Cup’.
“I want to be in the top 60 in the Race to Dubai and if I can achieve that then next year I’ll set my goals slightly loftier again. Bit by bit you build to try to get there.
“It would be the cherry on the cake.”