When Charles Howell III arrived on the PGA Tour in 2000 with a picture-perfect power swing and an Augusta, Ga., pedigree, he was tagged with that impossible-to-fulfill moniker: the Next Tiger.
Howell, 33, never ascended to those heights, but as he approaches his 13th season on Tour, he said he’s proud to still be out there competing and, with new coach Gary Gilchrist, and he’s hoping he can build on the improved form he showed in the Fall Series.
“I’m glad I’ve been able to play this many years on the PGA Tour,” Howell said in a recent interview with Golf.com. “Certain goals and expectations can get in the way of the recognizing that playing out here is an achievement. I’m most proud of my consistency.”
He doesn’t regret those Tiger comparisons, either.
“It was a compliment, first of all,” he said. “There was an inordinate amount of buzz around Tiger and we all rode the wave of that. What Tiger’s accomplished in golf is probably underappreciated. To be even in the same sentence as him is a compliment."
Howell has won two times on the PGA Tour, at the now-defunct Michelob Championship at Kingsmill in 2002 and the Nissan Open (now Northern Trust Open) in 2008. That’s not enough, he said.
“I want to win more,” Howell said. “I’ve finished second 15 times and I’ve won twice. And honestly, getting in position to win is what makes the game fun.”
Howell, who previously worked with golf instructor Todd Anderson, made the switch to Gilchrist before the Fall Series. Howell had not been pleased with his season, which started well enough with a T2 finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii but included missed cuts at the Players and the two majors in which he played, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. “Not that my golf is a reflection of my teacher,” Howell added.
When he started working with Gilchrist, Howell said he developed a better balance to his practice time and tried to discipline himself to work on chipping, putting and his wedges as much as the full swing. It paid off. After missing the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship and the Justin Timberlake, Howell finished T11 at the Frys.com Open, T7 at the McGladrey Classic and T15 at Disney.
Gilchrist, who counts women’s world No. 1 Yani Tseng among his students, said that he had known Howell since Howell was a teenager working with David Leadbetter, and he’s followed Howell’s career closely ever since.
“I saw his talent and it was great to watch his career and see his enormous potential,” Gilchrist said. “Over the years, looking back he hasn’t reached his full potential yet. His best golf is still to come.
“For me, having the opportunity to work with a player of his caliber is great,” he added. “It’s a big responsibility to help someone guide their career and make a huge impact.”
His teaching philosophy is focused on controlling the ball, not the swing, Gilchrist said, and he’s as much interested in physical training and mental preparation for tournaments as the technical elements of the golf swing.
“Every single golfer is different, with different tendencies, personalities, approaches and swing,” he said. “Many players prepare to play, but they don’t prepare to win.”
What winning often comes down to, Gilchrist said, is the player getting out of his own way, like Ernie Els at the 2012 British Open.
“Once you make golf your best friend, you can do anything,” he said. “But if you fight golf, there’s only going to be one winner and I know who that will be.”
Photo: Gary Gilchrist and Yani Tseng at the 2012 U.S. Women's Open. (Getty Images)