The father took up golf only to further the deep interest of his prodigy son, who stumbled on the game when he saw a neighbor playing backyard Wiffle-ball golf. Charlie has no use for the old-world Augusta social scene. He joined the city's foremost country club for Charles, who was then 10. "I knew he would have to know how to putt bentgrass greens if he was going to advance in the game, and Augusta Country Club was one of the few courses around home with bentgrass greens," Charlie says.
He's asked, "After four years around the game, you had enough golfing sophistication to understand the importance of learning to putt on bentgrass greens?"
"Are you kidding me?" he responds. "I've made a study of this game. There isn't much I don't know."
Ten years ago, when Charles was 12, the Howell family started making monthly car trips to Orlando for him to take lessons from David Leadbetter, the holistic golf teacher. (He monitors his pupils' swings, mental states, workouts, fiber intakes.) The drive took about seven hours, with Charlie and Debbie in the front of their Chevy Suburban and Charles and his brother, Ben, four years younger, in the back. In Orlando, Charlie and Charles would spend the days on the lesson tee. Debbie, a registered nurse not now working, and Ben, now a college freshman and not a golfer, would be on water slides and roller coasters. The two Charles Howells would watch as Leadbetter worked with Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Nick Price, Ty Tryon. The Charles Howells were human VCRs. "David became like a second father to Charles," says Charlie. It takes a confident father to make room for a second one.
During a practice round at Bay Hill last month, Leadbetter caught up with Charles on the 13th hole, a short par-4. Two days earlier Leadbetter had persuaded Howell to try a new body-massage machine imported from France and known by its code name, S-Six. This is how they greeted each other.
CH: "That machine is unbelievable."
DL: "You look loose."
CH: "I'm telling you."
DL: "What'd you hit off the tee here?"
CH: "That new two-iron."