David Howell has been a stalwart of the European Tour for approaching 25 years and a longstanding Players Representative on the Tour Committee. The likeable veteran has five wins and two Ryder Cup appearances to his name and has won some of the biggest titles the Tour has to offer, including the 2006 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club. He has also experienced beating the best in the game with a sensational victory over Tiger Woods at the HSBC Champions in China in 2006. Here the engaging Englishman, who is also one of the most popular golf pundits and broadcasters on TV, recalls his life on Tour and how his knowledge of the venues for the upcoming UK Swing, starting with this week’s Betfred British Masters at Close House, could play to his advantage.
Q: In 2018 you made your 600th start on the European Tour. Do you still get out of bed as excited to compete on Tour as you did 15-25 years ago?
DH: Competing is still just as exciting as when I first started out as a Tour player. However, I would have to say that when my game isn’t competitive, then of course, that excitement is replaced by frustration, which isn’t something I’d jump out of bed for!! Playing the last few holes in line for a good finish, though, feels just the same as it did 20 years ago. So, in general, I’m able to get out of bed and put my spikes on without too much trouble. I’m still a golfer at heart.
Q: Of your five wins on Tour, which is the one you remember most fondly – and why?
DH: All wins are special. I’ve been blessed to have won some great events in my time. My first victory came in Dubai at the 1999 Desert Classic, which was ‘a pinch yourself’ moment; the BMW PGA Championship in 2006 was probably my proudest achievement, also my defeat of Tiger in China in the same year, and my comeback victory in 2013 at the Home of Golf, with long autumnal shadows framing the 18th green, was incredibly emotional for me. But if I could only experience one of these again, I’d have to choose the PGA Championship for sure.
Q: What are the first few thoughts or images that pop into your mind when you hear the words ‘British Masters’?
DH: Losing in playoffs, which I have done twice!! At the Forest of Arden I closed out a birdie-birdie-eagle blitz with a bogey on the tough par-3, 18th, to all into a playoff with Thomas Bjorn and Brian Davis with the Great Dane eventually winning. A few years previously, in 2001, I holed a lovely 6-footer to make it into a four-way playoff, which Thomas Levet duly won. The British Masters has been one of my favourite tournaments over the years. Close House is a new venue for me, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s certainly a great way to start off the new UK Swing.
Q: Dubai must hold some special memories for you as you won your first Tour title there and were a Dubai resident – how impressive has the growth in the Emirate been over the years and what makes the Middle East such a great place to start and end the season?
DH: For sure, being lucky enough to get my first win at the Dubai Desert Classic was a real thrill. It used to feel like our first big tournament of the season. We all remember. It was the first place Monty would turn up to play in his prime years. All the players wanted to win it. Seeing Dubai develop over those 25 years has been amazing. The courses have gone from an oasis in the Desert to more of a city course. What is truly great about Dubai is that it has grown up with golf at its heart, which is nice to see. Closing the season out on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates in the DP World Tour Championship seems more than just a fitting occasion. During this difficult era for European Tour golf, the Middle East has become a strong and resilient partner to the Tour, and, as ever, Dubai, leads the way.
Q: Being a father do you think it’s harder nowadays for children to get into golf, compared to when you first got started in the game?
DH: There is nothing like giving it a go to find out where you are at, and how good you are. However, it’s always best to try and fail than not to try at all. My experience of golf has always been that it’s very accessible. Getting kids to enjoy their first taste of swinging a club is the most important thing. Once kids get the golfing bug then, certainly in the UK, I believe there are enough openings to golf venues, so that anyone can take up the game for a reasonable cost.
IN THE BAG:
I have 14 Titleist clubs in the bag – a TS3 8.5 driver with a Speeder 661TR shaft and a 3 and a 5 wood with the same specs;
T100 irons with Project X LZ6.5 shafts;
Three Vokey SM8 wedges: 50°, 52°, 58°
A Scotty Cameron Newport style putter.
HOWELL’S TOP TIP:
My tip for amateurs would be just to enjoy their handicap allowance. Don’t stress. Remember, it’s just for fun, and try and stay away from a big number on any one hole.