Charles Howell skips three weeks of competitive amateur golf and everybody wonders what happened to him.
During his absence, John Engler of Clemson and Scott Volpitto of Texas Christian, Howell's collegiate contemporaries from Augusta, played in the Georgia State Golf Association's Amateur Championship in Eatonton and the Southern Amateur in Sea Island, Ga.
Where was Howell, who like Engler is a first-team All-American? Did the former the No. 1-ranked junior golfer in the country burn out on the sport?
Hardly. The three-week break was planned all along.
"This was about the only time to take a little break," Howell said.
Not that the rising junior at Oklahoma State was taking a break from practicing. Three weeks ago, he was in Orlando, Fla., working with his long-time instructor, David Leadbetter, who is based there.
"I'm still practicing very hard," Howell said. "When I say I'm taking a break, I mean a break from competition. I practice all day and work out as well."
Since Howell went on a workout program at Oklahoma State, he's gained 20 pounds, most of it muscle. He now weighs 154 pounds.
Howell, ranked third in this week's Golfweek/Titleist amateur ranking, is one of the top amateur golfers in the state. That's why it was puzzling to many that he didn't play in the Georgia State Golf Association's Amateur Championship three weeks ago.
The fact is, Howell has never played in the state amateur. Even when he was playing a major national junior schedule, Howell took the week of the state amateur off. He's doing the same now that he plays a national amateur tournament schedule.
"I don't have anything against them," Howell said of the GSGA. "I know some of the officials because they run a lot of USGA qualifiers I play in," Howell said. "It's no Allen Doyle thing."
Doyle, a six-state amateur champion who is now a star on the Senior PGA Tour, feuded with the GSGA in the late 1980s.
Howell is considering playing in the 2000 state amateur because it will be held at West Lake Country Club in Martinez.
"It's definitely a possibility," Howell said.
Give Howell credit for knowing he needed a break sometime this summer. He played in all nine spring tournaments at Oklahoma State, followed by the NCAA Championships, where he finished fifth individually and his team finished second.
In succession this summer, he played in a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier (Howell lost a playoff for a spot in the Open), the Sunnehanna Amateur (he was the runner-up), the Northeast Amateur (sixth place) and the Dogwood Amateur (11th place).
Howell returns to action this week at the Western Amateur in Benton Harbor, Mich. That will be followed by a U.S. Amateur qualifier at the Country Club of Columbus on Aug. 2. If he makes the U.S. Amateur field, it would be Howell's fifth straight appearance in what is considered the amateur tournament.
School starts Aug. 16 at Oklahoma State, but Howell hopes he won't be there. The U.S. Amateur, which is being played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links this year, starts the same day.
JONES CREEK: The second annual Jones Creek Junior Open will be held on Aug. 3. It is open to youngsters ages 11 through 18. The 11-12 age group will play nine holes while the 13-14, 15-16 and 17-18 age groups will play 18 holes. Entry fee is $10 for the tournament. The field will be closed after the first 30 entrants. To enter, call Jones Creek at 860-4228.
WATSON MEMORIAL: Entries are being taken for the Perry Watson Memorial, scheduled Aug. 7-8 at Pine Ridge Country Club in Edgefield, S.C. Entry fee of $90 for the Regions Cup event covers greens fee and cart fee for the 36 holes of tournament play and greens fee for a practice round. There will be a senior division. To sign up, call Pine Ridge at (803) 637-3570.
GALLAGHER SIGN-UP: Junior golfers interested in playing in the 32nd Mickie Gallagher Junior tournament, scheduled for Aug. 12 at the Forest Hills Golf Club, can pick up applications at area courses. The tournament, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 677, is open to boys and girls ages 8-17. Golfers can also sign up until 8 a.m. on the day of the event.