BALANCING the jet-setting life of a European Tour golfer and the responsibilities of a first-time father has been an eye-opening experience for Swindon’s David Howell.
The 37-year-old, currently rebuilding his career after a disastrous three-year slump, recently welcomed baby son Freddie into his household and he admitted in a candid interview with the Advertiser that recognising his new role as a dad has been one of his biggest inspirations as he begins the long climb back up the Order of Merit.
Gone are the days when a happy-go-lucky Howell was dominating leaderboards across the continent, earning himself a place in consecutive Ryder Cup teams in 2004 and 2006 and reaching the dizzy heights of ninth in the world rankings.
Now the Broome Manor professional presents a more contemplative, deliberate character. His practice methods have been condensed and concentrated, his attitude on and off the course has shifted from frustration and anger to self-help and personal development and, as a result, he is starting to enjoy the kind of success that catapulted him to the forefront of the game a little less than a decade ago.
Howell credits his marriage to Emily and the arrival of his little boy as principle factors in the general rethink of his own career.
And, with the support of his wife, he has begun to remodel himself to impressive results.
He told the Advertiser over a hot coffee at a wind-swept Broome Manor: “It’s obviously big changes this year. I’ve been through a lot of changes recently, I’ve got married and live in Dubai and Surrey whereas we just used to live in Surrey.
“I’ve got a lot of off-course stuff going on for a while, that’s all calmed down now and I’m settled and happy.
“I’m delighted to be a dad, it’s a lot of fun. I had some quite hectic personal times for a few years and they didn’t help, they hindered my golf massively along with the injuries; but I’m in a period now where I’m healthy, confident and very happy in my life.
“One thing people forget when they look at sport is that you’ve got to rely on your sporting life with your life. They’re two separate things that you’ve got to merge and be happy in both to ultimately be really content with your life.
“It can’t be all about the golf, it can’t be all about the family. You’ve got to get that mix right and I think we’ve got that now.
“Emily is a great supporter and Freddie is lovely. Becoming a dad puts some things in perspective but it also makes you realise you’re the breadwinner and you’ve got to go out and provide for your family as well.
“It can add pressure as well as putting things in perspective and I think that is a good balance.
“We’ve got a good relationship and Emily completely understands what we do. We’ve had a very on-off relationship, Emily and I, over the years - so we’ve been through our tribulations hopefully, touch wood.
“Em just totally understands that if I have to go away for three, four or five weeks that’s what I have to do.
“We’re very comfortable with that, we’ve got a very good relationship on that front, she’s a great supporter of my golf by in a way not caring what I do as long as it’s to do with my golf.
“I have to do what I have to do and one of the things I have analysed and worked hard on is how I practice and how much I practice.
“I’m spending less time practicing than I used to but getting the results for the work I do, which is slightly better.
“Most golfers will tell you they think they’ve wasted hundreds of hours of extra practicing that hasn’t helped. One of the keys to getting the balance right is to get your practice regimes very efficient so you don’t have to spend six hours at the golf club, you can get it done in two or three hours and come home feeling like you’ve done your work.
“Hitting 500 balls a day is not an option when I’m 37 and injury-prone, it needs to be 150 of top quality rather than two or three hundred wasting a few.”
As Howell admits, age is starting to catch up with him as a new breed of young, dynamic golfers break through across the European Tour.
However, there remains an old guard of professionals with whom he has shared most of his life for the past 15 years.
And Howell has got used to the comforts of his mobile home away from home.
“I’m kind of known as the joker for whatever reason, and all of the stories seem to happen to us,” he said.
“As my life on tour has progressed often it is me amongst my friends talking about the crazy things that have happened along the way.
“I’ve got some great mates on tour, mainly other English players who I’ve grown up playing with. Mark Foster is my oldest friend on tour, he’s been on tour for 15 years and his life has progressed, he’s married and has kids.
“What is interesting amongst my group of close friends who play practice rounds together is we don’t discuss our own games. We don’t give each other lessons, occasionally we’ll chat about what coach we’re working with but we don’t go into it that much.
“We lead a parallel life. We live in each other’s pockets, sometimes rooming together - we do that less often now but still occasionally - and yet every morning you get up and go about your daily business in completely your own way.
“You meet up for dinner in the evening and try to have lunch and relax. It’s a strange environment in many ways but it is the way it is because that’s the way it has to be.
“Some of the guys are uber-professional, don’t touch a drop of alcohol, go on diet regimes and everything and are not having any joy because of it.
“Others are happy go lucky, out of shape and doing nicely. There’s no right way to go about your golf career, going about it the way that suits you best is the best way. There’s no single formula.”
Many of those close friends on tour provided the emotional support Howell required to deal with a horrendous run of missed cuts and errant shots that contributed to his plummet down the world rankings.
Yet the Swindonian explained the complex and peculiar relationships members of the European Tour dice with every day of the year.
He said: “Everyone was aware of my slump but I was exempt on the tour and still out there and other friends, while noticing and caring that I wasn’t playing so well, had to go back on the Challenge Tour because they didn’t have the exemptions or the career to date that I’d had.
“There’s always someone worse off or in a more stressful situation than you and that’s one of the things that all the players on tour become aware of.
“There aren’t many cocky people on tour because it’s such a tough game and there’s no space for people to large it up when they’re doing well when they’re surrounded by friends who are struggling and all the while knowing that might flip-flop the following year.
“It’s a very supportive environment to be in and it’s a very strange environment because you’re trying to play with your best mate and beat him and you’re taking the food off their family’s table.
“While you always want your friends and colleagues to do well you always want to be one step ahead of them. That’s what sums it up.”