The 2013 season will be the last to kick off with the annual Tournament of Champions in Kapalua. When the curtain drops at East Lake in September, players will get a week off before the year’s second season opener begins immediately following the Presidents Cup in October.
None of that, however, will have much effect on Augusta native Charles Howell. Since he received his full tour privileges in 2002 after two busy seasons with special temporary status, Howell has averaged nearly 30 starts a year.
“People say this will be a shorter season when in fact it’s a longer season because 2014 starts right after the Tour Championship,” Howell said. “It will be interesting to see how guys pace themselves, especially in the fall. We still have players who don’t start up until the World Match Play or Riviera, and it will be interesting to see if any of those guys add a Frys.com or McGladrey Classic to the mix. I will play them because I’ve generally played them in the past.
“When you factor it all in, I’ll probably play 30 or 31 events again this year.”
Howell will kick off his 14th season as a pro in Honolulu next week at Waialae Country Club, where he’s generated more than $1.86 million in earnings with six top-five finishes including runner-up last season and 2007.
What exactly brings out the best in Howell right out of the gate is a mystery even to him.
“I’ve thought a lot about that but honestly I don’t know,” he said. “I do practice and work on my game in the offseason, but a lot of players do. I’ve always enjoyed it there. Maybe because it’s Hawaii I’m a bit more relaxed. I wish I had a better answer.”
Hawaii will be the last bit of relaxing in the immediate future for Howell, who intends to compete the next six consecutive weeks on the West Coast. He’s even adding a stop at Pebble Beach at the end of that stretch to get in as many starts as possible to try to get the win he likely needs to qualify for the Masters Tournament.
Howell currently ranks 117th in the world, so reaching the top 50 benchmark for Augusta isn’t likely without a victory anyway.
“The only thing I’ll do differently is I’ll play a whole lot before the Masters trying somehow to get in that golf tournament,” he said of his beloved hometown major. “Getting back in it last year reminded me how much I want to get back into this year.”
A year ago, Howell was pre-qualified for all four majors based on his reaching the 2011 Tour Championship. But slipping to 73rd on the money list last season forced him back into the pool of chasers.
“In a weird way it is fun with the goals already preset in there when the year starts,” Howell said of the hunger he feels to get started. “But the flip side is I like knowing I’m in those (majors) because of scheduling. It’s much easier.”
Despite his 34th birthday approaching this summer and two kids growing up at home, Howell still doesn’t feel like a grizzled veteran gearing up for a 14th season on the world’s best tour.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “It seems like I’ve been out there three or four years and not 13.”
Yet Howell already ranks 26th all-time in career earnings ($23,671,031). All 25 players above him on the list have more than his two victories – including 11 in double digits and 12 more with at least five wins. Fourteen of them have won majors.
“It does seem amazing, the reason being that I haven’t won as many golf tournaments as I’ve wanted to,” Howell admits. “I’ve finished second a whole bunch (13 times) but having only won twice it can be a negative. But it can be a positive, too, in that I’ve really played consistent throughout the time. It does surprise me a bit but it’s something I’m very proud of. I just wish there were some more notches in the win column.”
To that end, Howell continues to work with “happiness guru” and psychologist Peter Crone to get him over the goal-line that’s eluded him since 2007 at Riviera.
“More times than not with me I’ve tried too hard,” he said. “I’ve played one way to get myself into position and when I’ve come close in the last nine holes or the final round I’ve just tried too hard or forced it a bit and been too aggressive.
“The overall thing is to realize it’s just a round of golf and play that way. That’s easier said than done, but it is the reality. The players that have played the best over the history of the game have been able to do that.”
Howell spent the time he had in the offseason concentrating on his short game and playing more rounds than range work so that he’ll hit Hawaii already in the mindset of trying to make a score.
“When the gun goes off and the situation counts, it’s really hard to practice and prepare for tournament golf because you just can’t get yourself in the same situation,” he said. “We can play money games at home to try to make you feel that, but you just can’t duplicate it.”
After so many close calls at Waialae, perhaps the tournament owes Howell a chance to come back next season and play at Kapalua as well as Augusta in April. He’ll try but he’s not counting on it.
“Because it’s the first event of the year, everybody starts at scratch now so you just want to get off to a good start,” he said of his kickoff goal. “It’s more that as opposed to, ‘Hey, I can win this.’ It’s more or less just trying to get going and get past the beginning of the year jitters.”
From here on, that won’t be as much of a problem since the seasons will never end.