Standing on the
1st tee of the first round of his first tournament, he overheard the following
conversation between grizzled veteran Roger Wessels and his leathery caddie,
has he got?" McLaren asked, eyeing Howell.
know, but it doesn't look good," said Wessels.
Howell loves to
tell that story because it was so true at the time but turned out to be so
wrong. "I had no clue what I was doing. I knew nothing about the golf
swing, but I was just clever enough to get around the course," Howell says.
"In my own way I was quite confident because I didn't know any better."
It wasn't until midway through his rookie year that he discovered that the
eight-iron in his set of hand-me-down Maruman blades had more loft than the
nine-iron. Yet he finished 54th on the Order of Merit, his erratic ball
striking redeemed by a magical short game.
In the ensuing
two seasons Howell improved to 47th and then 32nd on the money list. He earned
his first professional victory at the 1998 Australian PGA Championship, blowing
away the field by seven strokes. But a few weeks later he wrenched his ankle
playing tennis. After a long layoff he returned to win the '99 Dubai Desert
Classic, his first Euro tour victory. At 23 he was being billed as a star in
the making, but in his heart Howell knew he had a way to go.
quality as a golfer is that I have always been very honest with myself," he
says. "I never believe I am better than I am. And back in 1999 I knew I
wasn't swinging the club that well, despite the wins."
Beginning in 1999
Howell spent the better part of four seasons tinkering with different swing
coaches. In early '02 he hit another bump in the road. "I went for a
three-mile run," he says, "made it 200 yards at a tremendous pace, fell
over my laces and broke my left arm."
He rushed his
recovery to make it back for the U.S. Open at Bethpage, but Howell struggled
for the remainder of the year, failing to finish in the top 10 at any event on
any tour. The injury and its aftereffects marked a turning point for him.
"Not to be melodramatic, but I realized my career could have been taken
away from me," he says. "I decided to really give it my all, to lay it
on the line and make some changes to reach another level."
finally leaving Swindon, where he lived down the street from Broome Manor, the
municipal course he grew up on. Howell moved to Surrey and paid the six-figure
initiation fee to join Queenwood, with its world-class competition and
facilities. (He has a regular game with Clarke and says his occasional beer
with Els and the boys "helps to demystify them a little bit.") He
committed to working exclusively with Clive Tucker and also hired a personal
trainer, a chiropractor and an osteopath to aid him in sorting out his physical
quirks. Howell has Scheuermann's disease, an abnormal curvature of the spine
that tilts his back toward his right shoulder. Compounding his asymmetry, his
right leg is shorter than his left.
"It took me a
long time to realize there were certain aspects of my body that made it a
challenge to swing the club properly," he says. "Put me in what is a
perfect setup, and it feels as if I'm going to fall over to the right."
While Howell still looks unorthodox at address, he and Tucker have found a
setup position that keeps his swing on plane.