DL: "Like it?"
CH: "Love it. You know how good that club's going to be at Augusta?"
The Howell family's loyalty to Leadbetter played a role in Charles's firing of his former manager, Rocky Hambric. Last year Hambric negotiated a deal with Golf Magazine for Howell to become a playing editor. (Golf and SI are both owned by AOL Time Warner.) When Leadbetter learned of the agreement, he was disappointed. He's on the staff of Golf Digest, a competing monthly. He told the Howells it was awkward for him to be at one magazine and have one of his star pupils at another. The Howells had been with Leadbetter for a decade and with Hambric for less than three years. They wanted to appease Leadbetter, which put them at odds with Hambric, and the manager was out. Hambric responded with a suit against Charles, charging him with wrongful termination and breach of contract. Charles countersued. The suits are still pending. Howell is now with IMG, which also represents Woods.
One reason the Tour caddies are so impressed by Howell is his work ethic. It's not just how much he practices but also how intelligently he practices. The master of this, of course, is Woods. Last year at the Western Open, Howell was at the back of the range at Cog Hill, chipping and pitching and hitting bunker shots, when another golfer arrived. Howell looked up. There was Woods.
"I see you're working hard," Woods said.
"I've got to work hard to be out here," Howell replied. Woods is where Howell wants to be. Howell's goal is to be the best player in the world.
"Yeah," said Woods. "It takes hard work."
"It reaffirmed everything I believe," Howell says. "Tiger was saying, 'It's right there in the dirt. Go find it.' "
When Charles is practicing, Charlie is frequently nearby-The father gets to as many of the son's tournaments as his work allows. After the first round at Bay Hill last month, the two Charleses went straight to the practice green, where they were met by Leadbetter and an associate of his unfamiliar to Charlie. The man's PGA Tour neck tag identified him as DR. ROBERT WINTERS. He had a weather forecaster's hairdo, and his color coordination was too perfect, and by body language you could see that Charlie was skeptical of him. Any number of people had tried to get Charles to make more 10-footers, none of them successfully.
After about 20 minutes, Charlie went over to Debbie. "Well, he says Charles is right-eye dominant and he's not using his right eye enough when he's standing over his putts, so that's a good thing," he said. "But I'd sure like to know what he's a doctor of. I asked him, and I still don't know." Charlie Howell knows that putting illnesses aren't cured in 20-minute consultations.