Howell, Oklahoma State Rule
Ride 'em, Cowboys
Four years ago, when he was a skinny high school junior playing in the third round of the U.S. Amateur, Charles Howell came up against the best 20-year-old golfer in the country. Howell lost to Tiger Woods 3 and 1 that day, but he learned a valuable lesson: "I learned that it takes a lot to be the best and that I had to do something to set myself apart if I wanted to be the best."
Last week, at the NCAA Championships in Opelika, Ala., Howell, now a junior at Oklahoma State, set himself apart in spectacular fashion. He not only won the individual tide—and in the process led the Cowboys to the team championship—but also obliterated the scoring record by six strokes.
Howell's feats were spread around Grand National's Lake Course like a legend. Did you hear that Howell drove the 277-yard, par-4 16th? Did you see the two-iron Howell hit from 260 yards to 10 feet at number 7? In the end, Howell's 23-under-par 265 gave him an eight-shot win over Houston's Chris Morris.
Howell's most important strokes, though, were his final two in regulation, when he got up and down for par to force a playoff against Georgia Tech for the team title. (The Cowboys' and the Yellow Jackets' scores of 36-under 1,116 also broke the NCAA record of 34 under set by UNLV in '98.) Oklahoma State won it on the first extra hole, playing the hole in one under while Tech was one over, making Howell the first individual champ since Mickelson in '90 to also be on the winning team. "The performance that he put on here for four days was surreal," said coach Mike Holder, whose teams have won eight national championships during his 27-year career at the school.
Howell's personality belies his aggressiveness on the course. His father is a doctor and his mother is a nurse in Augusta, and he is as polite as kids come—all yes, sirs, and no, sirs. He doesn't smoke or drink, but he does wear braces and attends church every Sunday. He is a terror, though, once he tees it up. If one shot last week characterizes the way the 5'10", 155-pound Howell plays, it came at the 16th hole during last Friday's round.
Holding a one-shot lead over Texas sophomore David Gossett, Howell tried to drive the green. Many players had gone for the green during the first two rounds, when the wind was helping, but on Friday when the hole was playing into the fan, no one else tried the 272-yard carry over Saugahatchee Lake. Howell's ball sailed 275 yards and wound up five feet from the flag. The others in Howell's group—Gossett, the reigning U.S. Amateur champ, and Georgia Tech's Matt Kuchar, who won that tide in '97—didn't have the Stratas to go for it and laid up. After Howell sank the eagle putt and then birdied 17 and parred 18 to conclude a round of 63, his lead was never again threatened. Gossett tied for third and Kuchar, playing in his final college tournament, finished 20th.
Unlike Gossett, who is expected to turn pro after next month's British Open, Howell will return to school to complete his business degree and attempt to become the first repeat NCAA champion since Mickelson (1989-90). As Howell told the starter on the 1st hole before the final round, "You get me for one more year."
New Course Compromise
Pebble Project Back on Track
It looks as if Pebble Beach may finally get another championship course. The Pebble Beach Company first applied for building permits in 1992, but regulatory delays and fierce opposition from environmentalists have stalled the project. A breakthrough was made in recent weeks with the help of Clint Eastwood, who last July became a managing partner of the Pebble Beach Company for the $820 million deal. The company agreed to a compromise in which it would drop plans to sell 316 residential lots around the course in exchange for permission to add a total of 125 rooms to the Lodge at Pebble Beach and the Inn at Spanish Bay.