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January 30, 2007

Charles Howell III


JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Charlie, for joining us for a few minutes here in the media center at the FBR Open. Great start to your year, two runner-up finishes, and more importantly, you're on the top of that FedExCup list right now going into the fifth week of the season. Just talk a little bit about the last couple weeks and how excited you are about your game.
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, you know, starting the year, and even really towards the end of last year with the new season and with the FedExCup, with the shortened season, it put a lot of pressure and emphasis on working hard this off-season. It's almost a bit of a wake-up call with the shorter season, with more guys playing more events so the field is tougher.
That was a really good motivator to work hard this off-season. Obviously I couldn't have asked for a much better start to the year, obviously apart from maybe winning a tournament, but no, to be leading the FedExCup, truthfully, at any time of the year is great. Obviously the end of the year would be the best, but --
You know, it also serves as a year-long goal, if you will. At the beginning of the year I think a lot of people are asked what are your goals, et cetera, and, you know, the FedExCup is a great way to keep pushing you and keep pushing you along. I understand that the points do -- you are re-seeded a bit as the playoffs go, but to still have as many going in there as you can is important because, once again, it is a playoff series which is brand new for golf. I don't think anyone knows how that will really play out. But as big a cushion, if you will, going in there is important.

Q. What specifically did you work on over the off-season? You talked about working hard. Was there anything that you felt needed to be improved specifically that you had to address?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, two things. Number one, driving the ball in the fairway more often. And the second one is short game. If you go back and look at what really hurt me coming down the stretch of the Sony Open, it was the two things I needed to work on the most, driving the ball in the fairway and the short game. Had I driven the ball in the fairway more often on that back nine or had I gotten that ball up-and-down on 18 to force a playoff, it could have been a different story. But going forward, in San Diego, the back nine there, I drove the ball the best I've driven it in I don't know how long.
It was nice to see that sort of continue on and go forward, but yeah, those are the things that I worked on, and I still say that if you look at who are the Top 5 players in the world, in my opinion they've got the Top 5 best short games.

Q. Your putting seems to be really solid starting out this year. Have you done anything to work specifically on your putting game, especially within 20, 25 feet?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, the first thing is I spent some time with Callaway and Odyssey to fit me for a putter that was to best fit me. So instead of, let's say, going out to the putting green and just grabbing a putter and saying let's hit a few putts with this, is this going to work, instead I decided to utilize the resources there at Callaway. So okay, guys, what's the best way to fit me for a putter.
So we went back to what models have I used in the past, et cetera, et cetera, so the putter, number one -- I say that because I haven't switched putters since the tournament in Las Vegas, so throughout the off season I didn't tinker with any putters, didn't tinker with anything. That's pretty big for me because I'm a tinkerer.
And then beyond that, I've just done everything I can do to try to smooth my stroke out, whether it's an image of a David Toms-type tempo or Brad Faxon. We watched a lot of video of those two guys putting this off-season. I'm a long way from getting it exactly right, but it is getting better.

Q. When you're missing fairways and you're standing over your ball in the rough, what's the swing thought that's going through your head to get the ball back into play?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, one thing that I've found is if you miss fairways -- a couple years ago a lot of players changed their strategy and they decided, well, I'm going to hit driver everywhere and get it as far down there as I can. Even if you do hit it in the rough I have a wedge into the green. The thing I found is where you can make pars from the rough it's getting increasingly more difficult to make birdies from the rough.
So my thought in the rough is how am I going to make a par from here. That's not the way you can beat Tiger is making pars, I can assure you of that.
You know, I'm learning my golf swing better and I'm learning me better to get the ball in the fairway. You know, as I work with Callaway on a putter I also worked with them on a driver. I switched to their new driver, the FT-5. For me that was a great switch because it's a bigger head, a little more stable and I hit it a little straighter. Doing whatever we can do to try to -- I'm going to them saying, okay, guys, these are things I'm trying to work on, although I understand that you are equipment, it's sort of the Indian arrow thing, I still want to know how can you guys help me the most.
And then so Callaway has their aspect of equipment and David Leadbetter from the coaching point of view, and I'm trying to marry those two better.

Q. So get an idea of how much you worked on your putting, what percentage of all your practice time went to putting, and what would be a typical day, two hours on putting, three hours?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, I'd say an overall percentage, if you look at everything, was 30 percent long game, 30 percent putting and then 30 percent -- 33 percent short game, short game being everything but putting, so chipping, pitching, bunkers, et cetera, so divide it all up into thirds. As far as the amount of time goes, it could be varied from an hour a day of putting to three hours a day of putting depending on how long I was out there. A lot of it was drills, be it speed drills across the green, be it the old drills we always used to see Phil Mickelson doing of putting eight tees around the hole, making putts from eight feet, six feet, anything to keep it interesting. Because for me if I don't keep my putting practice interesting, I get bored with it.
It's a lot more fun to go on the driving range and hit shots and create shots and hit draws, fades, cuts, all that. Putting, it's putting. For me, if I can't find ways to make it fun and entertaining, then my mind won't stay with it.

Q. As a result, you talked about trying to smooth out your stroke.

Q. Is it more of a pendulum now than, say, hitting at it?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Yes. If you look at all the putts I missed or my bad putts, it's more of a pop to it. You know, my image in my head is really a David Toms rhythm. I never, ever see that guy rush a stroke or pop it. So yeah, it's much more of a pendulum type than it would be of a pop or a hit.

Q. You said on Sunday after you were finished that you really like this golf course when you were talking about your schedule and what you are playing. You like the way this plays or fits your eye or whatever?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You're talking about Phoenix, right?

Q. Yeah. I wanted to know just what in particular that might be. But then when you look at how solid you played, especially on the back nine on Sunday at Torrey, that's a different type of golf course than this one. Is there a different strategy when you look at the two courses coming into this week?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Yeah. I like Torrey because it rewards a par. You know, first thought you look and you say, yeah, 15 under won. But you have to remember that one of those days is on the North Course. If you take the score and just throw out the North Course, what's going to win four days on the South, 5-, 6-under maybe? I love that because it rewards a par.
But the similarities between here and there is the fact that you can hit driver and you can hit driver a lot, so the guys that drive the ball good generally are going to play well.
Now, as far as a different strategy here, obviously birdies are king. But at the same time you've got to drive the ball well to take advantage of these holes. You know, you've got to drive the ball well on the par 5s here to reach those in two. You've got to drive the ball well on No. 17 to have a chance of driving that green.
I love golf courses that let you hit driver, that give you a bit of room to hit it. And then if you look at the guys that have won here and played well here, they're all good drivers of the ball. Obviously J.B. Holmes is probably the far-reaching extent of a guy that drives it a long way, but you see your Mark Calcavecchias, Phil Mickelsons, guys that are great drivers of the ball have won here.

Q. The rough here -- you've played already today?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I played this morning, yes.

Q. Obviously last week everybody was talking about how the rough was, much rough in comparison to years past. Is this a lot thicker?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, the rough here isn't as bad. It's not that bad. You can get the ball on the green from the rough. But that's fine for me. That's fine for desert-style golf.
You know, that's okay because there's still an element of guess, is the ball going to jump, is it going to come out, but you can still get the ball to the green, which that to me is fair.
Now, last week on the other hand you had some patches where you could hit a 3-wood from it and you had some patches that were pretty nasty. At least here it's uniform straight through.

Q. You mentioned that you feel like you know yourself a little bit better now. Do you feel like you've evolved maybe into more of an instinctive player as opposed to somebody who is maybe preoccupied with mechanics or whatever?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, I'm getting closer. You know, I grew up with mechanics, and I love mechanics. I love knowing how stuff works. But I'm getting a lot closer. You know, in years past if I were to hit a bad shot on the golf course, I would immediately think, okay, what did I do wrong there? I probably got the club a little here, a little there, where now if I hit a bad shot on the golf course, I then go to a feeling to correct that.
So whether I go to the next tee and try to hit a cut or a draw, in that regard it's a lot different.
Now, as far as our practice time and away from tournaments, I'm doing a much better job of staying on task of, okay, this is what we're going to work on and this is what we're going to fix and then we're not going to go to the next thing until we get this right. That's as much my fault as it is David's fault as anything because David loves mechanics and I love them, okay, I got that right, what else can we do, let's do this, let's do that, and before I knew it I had six things to do. None of them got fixed. We're doing that a lot better, as well.

Q. How does that translate into your demeanor on the golf course?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Truthfully it's a lot more at ease. If there's six things going on and I hit a bad shot, it's like, which one of those six was it. Now since we're doing one or two things, I've got a pretty good idea of what it was, which also helps, okay, I can actually feel this. So now instead of working on positions all day, yeah, I'll spend a little bit of practice time working on mechanics but I'll spend another section of my practice time working on draws and fades and highs and lows. If you look at Tiger, you can see coming down the stretch on Sunday, as he got into some holes where he was really just trying to get the ball in the fairway, he almost went into a three-quarter or a punchy-type shot. That's a lot more instinctive than it is mechanics, and that's the direction that I'm slowly trying to get to.

Q. I want to ask you a question about the guy you almost beat last week. He's over in Dubai, and as you may know, he's going to start a design on a golf course at the end of the year. I'm just wondering when you guys play your practice rounds, do you ever talk to him about golf course design, and what kind of a design or what kind of courses do you expect that we'll see from Tiger when he gets into that?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, you know, we have played a lot of practice rounds together. We practice a lot together at home. You know, we haven't had direct conversations about golf course design, but I do have a feeling they're going to be long (laughing). I've got a feeling they're going to be probably fairly forgiving off the tee but then brutal around the green.
When we spend our time at Isleworth, the thing that that guy just loves to do is practice short game. He doesn't like practicing the easy shots. He likes going to the corners of the bunker, he likes going to the rough, he likes moving the pins around on the edges.
I'm quite sure you're going to see some challenging short-game shots.

Q. This is an obvious question here, but how big a factor was your desire to get into The Masters with your fast start this season?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, you know, in years past I would look at goals and what do I want to do, and the easy answer to that is, well, win a tournament and get in the TOUR Championship. Well, now getting into The Masters was an easy goal.
It's a hell of a motivator. You know, that tournament obviously means more to me than anything. Yeah, it's -- it was on my mind at the Sony Open, it was on my mind playing on Sunday in San Diego because regardless of whatever outcome, being it finish 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 1st, whatever, every shot matters as far as playing my way back into Augusta.

Q. At the same time, how much incentive was it for you to get back to Augusta this year after what happened to you last year down there?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, yeah, I mean, obviously I didn't play well last year at Augusta at all, and I would love nothing more than to get back there to have another crack at it. I mean, let's face it, I can't do much worse.
But Augusta means a lot to me. I've played tons and tons of rounds around the golf course. You know, it was a very easy incentive to get out of bed this off-season and work hard, I promise you that.

Q. Many rookies and young players have been in contention recently. You're not that far removed from being in their shoes. Have any of the guys come to you and asked you for any advice?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No, not directly, but I will say that Brandt and I had a really good time playing on Saturday, Snedeker. You know, he was -- I knew Brandt a little bit. He played in the Masters, was it last year or the year before -- a couple years ago he played in the Masters, I met him then. Obviously a good player on the Nationwide Tour, not afraid to shoot low if you look at his scores. You know, the main thing is the more times you can put yourself in that position the more comfortable you get. Had I been playing on Sunday with Tiger Woods trying to run him down when I was a rookie, I know I'd have been a lot more uncomfortable than I was this year.
You know, all those guys are such good players, him, Jeff Quinney, Andrew Buckle up there, and the best thing you can do is just keep getting in that position. It just gets more and more comfortable and more and more easier to do to get out of your own way to play.

Q. Does it become easier or is it almost easy when you don't know what you haven't seen before?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No, I would say the opposite. I would say it definitely becomes easier because, you know, when you're in that position you don't know what to expect. So the more times you get in it, you know, the more that you know what to expect, you know what it's going to take, and nerves become less and less of a factor where your talent and your play and your game can sort of shine through. The first couple times you're in contention, it's such a battle between you and yourself as far as getting out of your own way, getting the anxieties down, the nerves down so you can play. It's definitely easier as far as that's concerned the more times through.

Q. I was just wondering did you give serious consideration to playing that square driver, and if you tested it, would you tell me what you thought about it?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, that was one of the things when I went to Callaway and asked them what could they do to help me drive the ball in the fairway more often, obviously we have FTI, which is designed around one premise, which is to make the ball go straighter.
So I spent some time this off-season with that square driver, the FTI, as well as FT-5, and I'm still working with an FTI -- the FT-5 is an extremely easy driver to hit. I was able to get right into it pretty easy, but I'm still working with the FTI. So yes, I am still giving it consideration and practicing and still working with it. I understand that Phil put it in play on Saturday last week, and it's a great golf club. It's extremely straight. It's taking me a little more time to get fitted into it than my FT-5 did.

Q. I wanted to ask you, after your experience at Sony and then your experience last week, it's easy when we talk to you afterwards, you have certain thoughts. But then you get a chance to reflect on it a little more, talk to Jimmy a little more, whoever you talk to. What do you take away from those two experiences now standing back a day or two?
CHARLES HOWELL III: The Sony stung a lot more than last week did, and it stung more because I didn't play well on the back nine. I had a two-shot lead with nine holes to go. The whole week I had played the back nine better than the front nine.
You know, I really liked my position with nine holes to play there and just didn't play well coming in. The complete opposite happened at San Diego. I didn't get off to a great start on Sunday and played really, really well on the back nine there coming in. I love the fact that I actually finished the tournament better, that it was more -- it wasn't a question of where I was trying to get it in the house; I was actually enjoying playing, I was continuing to hit good shot after good shot against Tiger. It was much more of a positive there.
Now on the flipside, though, seeing Tiger on a Sunday afternoon trying to beat him, it's -- you know, Phil and Vijay, Ernie, Retief, those guys have seen that a lot and they've done it a lot and they've tried to beat the guy a lot, and it's hard to understand sometimes what those guys say about trying to beat him unless you're there in the position to do it. This was my first time to do it.
I now see what they say, and the fact that the guy is hard to beat in that he always seems to find a way to get it done. He got the ball up-and-down three times on the back nine, from 11, 14 and 15, which were all great up-and-downs, and then obviously on 18, that nasty little lie he had there, that thing could have done anything.
The main thing I take away from San Diego was that I did play a lot better on that back nine, but I also got to see Tiger and sort of the things he does to get it done. And once again, you can point straight to his short game.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about how much your ball flight has changed in the last ten years and what you work on continually, looking for the perfect flight that makes you happy?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, you're always at -- it's always a bit of a give and take where the greens on Tour are getting firmer, the hole locations are getting closer and closer to the edges. A lot of our pins are three paces off the corners. So you've got to have the ability to hit the moon ball that Tiger can obviously hit to stop it.
Now, the flipside of that, we play in a lot of wind, too. So the main thing I've worked on is the ability to hit a three-quarter shot or off-speed shot or whatever you want to call it. I've worked my butt off on that and I'm continuing to do it to get better at it.
But when I first came out on Tour, I loved to hit everything hard, and I basically said that because of the way my swing was and the way my swing was geared, that was my best chance of hitting it straight. Any time I tried to take something off of it I lost it to the right, every time.
So it wasn't so much that, oh, there's Charles Howell hitting another hard shot again, it's the fact I couldn't do it. When you get out there in a tournament you're going to go with what can get it done. The time I've spent with David and his assistants on improving that I'm getting better at the ability to hit the shot. Now I'm starting to hit the shot under pressure and trust it, and that's been the one big hurdle I've had to overcome, and ultimately that's what I've got to continue to get better at. That's the one thing that Tiger and I will be on the driving range at Isleworth and we'll have a flag out there 100 yards, and grab your 7-iron and let's see how close we can get to the flag with a 7-iron. As impressed as we are that he can hit it so far, he also can dial his irons in pretty much any distance he wants. That's a big change from when he first came out on Tour, we all saw him hit wedges over greens, if you will. Those days are long gone.

Q. Has technology helped you get what you were looking for or is it just different problems?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No, technology has helped. Technology in golf has obviously -- we could go all day how it's changed the game. But the main thing it's gotten into is customization because what fits me is not what fits Tiger and what fits Fred Funk. But we all meet with Callaway and work with them to go, okay, what fits me. I don't want to know what fits Phil Mickelson, I want to know what fits me. So they're going to spend their time with him and they're going to spend their time with me. We go to them with what we want, now it's, guys, how can you help us.

Q. What was the low point for you during your so-called slump last year? Emotionally was there a time when you thought, oh, my, I'm a mess?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, I'd probably say that -- probably The INTERNATIONAL last year. That's a golf course that I really like, it's a tournament I like, I've played well there before. If you look on paper, it's a tournament that should fit me well, and I just played horrible there. That was pretty rough there. I remember just sitting in my hotel room and thinking, well, I'm working hard, I still love the game more than I ever did. I still want to be the best player in the world, yet it seems like I'm spinning my wheels here. And it seems like I'm just not improving.
You know, and I remember when I got done playing The INTERNATIONAL, I was in the airport fixing to leave to fly back to Orlando, and I called David Leadbetter. He was in England. It must have been, oh, 2 a.m. his time probably. Now, David you understand is Batman. The guy doesn't sleep. I thought I might get him, and I called him and I got his voice mail. I hadn't talked to David in a while at this point in time. I called him and I got his voice mail and I left a message for him to call me. So I thought, oh, I got that over with. Sure enough, he called right back. We proceeded to talk in the airport there for an hour and 20 minutes.
You know, it was tough. I was -- you know, there were some tears shed. Leaving David was a real hard thing to do, and I did it because I didn't think I was getting any better. You know, I want -- I knew that I was working as hard as anybody, but I wasn't getting where I wanted to go. I probably hit the panic button a little bit. I probably forgot I was 26 at the time. You know, I probably forgot that this was a marathon, not a sprint. But I went out searching.
You know, David, he got his lashes in on me, and I took them. But then after 30 minutes or so of that, it was back to normal, back to let's get your butt back in gear and let's get to working. So I flew back to Orlando then. I went to the Academy the next day and practiced down there at Champions Gate, and then my next tournament right then was the PGA, and I feel like after the PGA it sort of turned around.
But yeah, after that INTERNATIONAL, that was pretty bad.

Q. Why the tears, and define Lead's lashes.
CHARLES HOWELL III: The tears because it was -- like what I did on Sunday in playing against Tiger or playing at the Sony Open, playing against Luke Donald and Paul Goydos, that's what I want to do. I look back to even in junior golf and amateur golf and college golf, you just want to have a chance to win. That's what's fun. You know, the practicing at home and the practice rounds out here and the Pro-Ams, that's fine and good, but it only matters on Sunday afternoon with a chance to win.
Now, whether you ultimately win or not, okay, but when you have that chance, that's what it's all for. It felt to me in Denver that I hadn't -- it felt that I wasn't on the right track to do that, and the results will show you that.
I think that just for David to take the phone call and to say, okay, let's get back to work at the drop of a hat, you know -- our relation hip -- he's like a father to me and I'm like a son. Fathers and sons argue and they always come back. That's sort of what it was like.
JOAN v.T. ALEXANDER: Thank you, Charlie, appreciate your time.

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