Golfer Charles Howell all about fast start to new year
HONOLULU (AP) — The sun is shining and spirits are soaring at the Sony Open, the first full-field event of the year on the PGA Tour that seems to bring equal measures of optimism no matter how long a player has been around.
And it’s quite the age range at Waialae, from 16-year-old Kyle Suppa to 58-year-old Fred Funk, one of four Champions Tour players at the Sony Open.
“Everybody is in a pretty good mood this week,” said David Clark, the caddie for Paul Casey, as he watched a threesome wrap up a practice round. “At least until Thursday.”
For Charles Howell III, he has reason for high hopes along the surf and royal palms.
He has never missed this event since 2002, and he has done just about everything but win. Howell has eight top 10s, including a pair of runner-up finishes. He has never shot worse than 73, and 41 of his 48 rounds at the Sony Open have been at par or better.
Howell started laughing as he listened to his record. About the only thing missing from his record is a trophy, the winner’s lei draped around his neck and the champagne toast to the Waialae members.
“It’s weird,” he said. “I think coming off of an offseason, Hawaii is an easy place to come to. We’ve always enjoyed coming here, even in the days of college when we would come to play college events this time of the year. Guys are excited to play. As far as my results, it’s hard to say. I wish I knew what it was or I’d try it at some other event. For some reason, I like this course. It’s an old-style course, not a modern design by any means, and I like that aspect of it.”
Indeed, the Sony Open can feel trapped in the 1980s, and it goes back even further. This is the 50th anniversary of the PGA Tour coming to Waialae, a course that yields low scores without seeming very easy.
But there is a modern aspect of this event that Howell or anyone else cannot ignore.
The PGA Tour is getting younger.
Howell is coming off a Christmas break with his two children, 4-year-old Ansley and 3-year-old Chase, so maybe he just feels old. He is starting his 15th year on the PGA Tour and has reason to look behind at the newcomers than at the players he spent a decade chasing.
Patrick Reed won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions last week for his fourth PGA Tour victory at age 24, joining only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy as players who have won that often before turning 25.
Jordan Spieth is 21 and already has three wins worldwide, though none that got him to Kapalua. So he elected to wait until Phoenix to make his 2015 debut. Russell Henley won the Sony Open two years ago in his debut as a PGA Tour member.
“I don’t know if there’s a way to measure it,” said Justin Leonard, who is starting his 22nd year on the PGA Tour, “but guys who come out in their early and mid-20s, they’re ready to play and win. They don’t care who they’re playing against, whether it’s Matt Kuchar or me or anyone else. It doesn’t matter, because they’ve seen guys like Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler come out and play so well early that it’s inspired them.”
Howell wonders how much if it is the Tiger Woods effect.
Much like Spieth a generation ago, Howell earned his PGA Tour when he started the season with no status. That was in 2001, the year Woods completed a sweep of the majors and was on a 15-year roll the likes of which had never been seen on the PGA Tour.
Howell jokingly said last year that Woods “ruined a lot of guys’ lives” and caused sleepless nights, but that he also motivated a generation behind him.
“Tiger was the reason that working out become popular,” Howell said. “These (younger) guys, it’s like they used him as a benchmark. When I came out, Tiger had this massive intimidation factor. Now it’s like Tiger is the one who pushed them along and trained them. The dynamic is weird, but probably a guy my age would be more intimidated by Tiger than a guy who is just now coming out.
“Players coming out now are better,” he said. “They seem more comfortable. I don’t know if that’s because of how much golf is publicized, how much it’s on TV to where they know what to expect.”
Coming off a short winter’s nap and playing golf on a tropical island, expectations are higher now than they will be all year.