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April 2, 2007

Charles Howell III


BILLY MORRIS: Ladies and gentlemen, I'm Billy Morris, a member of the media committee, and I have on my left Charles Howell, an Augusta native, and we are delighted to have you here for this pretournament interview. We thank you for coming.
Charles, as many of you know, is an Augusta native. He has had an excellent start in 2007. He's made nine out of nine events, made the cut in nine out of nine and finishing in the Top-10 five times. He captured the Nissan Open by defeating Phil Mickelson on the third hole of a sudden death playoff.
And Charles, we were all sitting on the edge of our seats here in Augusta while that was going on in front of our eyes on TV sets. He tied for second at the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Buick Invitational, so Charles is off to a very good start this year.
I would like to remind you that all interviews this week will be shown live online.
Charles, we are delighted to have you with us. Would you like to say something or would you like to go direct to questions?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, it was not easy getting back into this golf tournament from last year, and it's an honor to be here. It always an honor to play the Masters, and the fact that I'm from here makes it even more special. So it just -- to be sitting here today and to be in this golf tournament, it's a lot of hard work, but it's definitely something very special.
BILLY MORRIS: Let's move now to questions.

Q. Just what did you learn from your performance here last year?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, you know, last year was obviously, I didn't play well, and this is a very mean golf course. You know, when you go in not playing too terribly well and the golf course is difficult, yeah, I mean -- and it's golf. I've played about 30 golf tournaments between then and now, so that's -- really, that's all.

Q. Could you describe how your week is different being back home, a typical week for you on the road?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, if it wasn't the Masters, I probably could somewhat give you an equal. This is a tough week for a lot of players. There's a tremendous amount of pressure here. The golf course is -- as beautiful as the golf course is, as perfect as it is, it's that difficult. So everybody's on edge a little bit this week. Everybody feels a little more pressure this week.
Now, being at home, it makes it a little bit easier, but there's still -- because it is the Masters, nothing gets easy out here. It does -- it does help it a little bit.

Q. I have two questions. What's the difference between being here last year when your game is so-so, to being here this year when it's good?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, first off, it's a lot more relief or pressure off of me, No. 1. Where, in my practice days and the days leading up to it, I can focus on how I play this golf course, what can I do to play well here.
I can spend a lot of time around the greens, versus having to spend a lot of time on the driving range to find something to sort of go with to get me through the week. Because that takes time away from the greens and around the greens, which we all know, if you're going to do well in this golf tournament or win it, your short game has to be very good.
On top of that, though, you have to know how to play it. So it's no coincidence that when I've played practice rounds here with Tiger, or with Olazábal, that they see certain ways to play certain holes. They know where to miss the ball, which is a part of the key as well.

Q. And secondly, I need you to just kind of play along here, since you've not missed this tournament since you first got here, if you had puttered around this year and not made it, where would you be this week?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, that's one thing I didn't want to think about. First off, you have to watch the Masters. It's probably one of the greatest sporting events in the world. I mean, even last year, after I missed the cut, I watched it on the weekend. I mean, you're just not going to miss it. I probably would have been watching it. I probably would have been home. I probably would have been in Orlando.

Q. This would not have been a good week to come and visit mom and dad?
CHARLES HOWELL III: The restaurants are crowded, a lot of people are in town. (Laughter) My mom and dad, they might have come down there actually to Orlando, truthfully. We probably would have spent some time down there practicing and whatnot.

Q. In the past couple of years, you've played a lot of practice rounds over the course of the year leading up to it here. What did you do this year; did you come out here at all around Christmas or the beginning of this year?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, I did come out around Christmas because I wasn't in the tournament and I'm not a member, so I did not.
But that's okay, because I didn't deserve to. I wasn't in the tournament, and that's fine.
So I came out last week on Wednesday and played and one of David Leadbetter's assistants came up with me, Kevin Smeltz, and we spent a day out here working and practicing. Then I played nine holes yesterday and nine today.
You know, I'm one of the lucky few that can say I've played here a lot. I know the golf course. And the end of the day, it just boils down to, do you hit the shots and do you make the putts.

Q. In that respect, do you feel maybe a little fresher about the course this year because you haven't been out here maybe kind of grinding and trying to think about it as long?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I probably feel a little better because my game is in a little better shape.
You know, coming in here last year, I wanted to play a lot of practice rounds just to sort of get something going and something moving. I feel a little better about my game this year so I'm probably a little more relaxed.
But I still know that it's only Monday and this is probably one of the only places in the world you can feel a little bit of nerves. Most Mondays, you don't see five guys out there, much less all of the fans that we have here.
So, yeah, for a Monday, I'm more relaxed than I have been in the past, and hopefully it will stay that way for the rest of the week.

Q. You were talking about last year how you didn't play well, and you wanted to get something going. Did you feel like it might not be going good last year, or were you as surprised as most people the way last year turned out?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, you know, I knew my game wasn't in great shape. I had still made every cut of the year leading up to the Masters. But I never really got anything going. And you know, as far as the end result, I didn't play well. Really not much more I can say than that.

Q. Are you still a tour guide for a lot of guys, especially the first time; where do I eat, where do I stay?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Occasionally. Any time, like Bo Van Pelt, a good friend of mine, he actually rented a house right down the street from my parents when he was here. The occasional player will come up and ask, you know, what side of town should I rent a house on, where should I avoid. Or I actually rented a house way down here, what's another way to get to the golf course. Little stuff like that, yes. And for dinner recommendations, I say, "Cook at home." That's the best I can give you. (Laughter)

Q. Is there a part of your game you're fine-tuning this week or working on?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, always working on the short game, always. That's a constant, really.
Every golf course that we play, the greens vary, the roughs vary, the fringes vary. So a 150-yard shot in Dallas is the same as a 150-yard shot at Augusta; what varies is everything around the green, the bunker, the sand. Every time I go to anyplace I spend a lot of time there. You look at basketball, baseball, the surfaces they play on hardly ever changes. In golf, there's a three-day window here on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday to get acclimated to what has changed. And at the Masters especially, it's around the green and work on the green.

Q. Is this anything specifically, chipping, pitching?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Nothing specific. All of it really. It's hard to isolate one thing here.
As soon as you think you've got this place figured out, it will throw you a curveball, so it's everything.

Q. Growing up in this town, can you classify what this tournament and what Augusta National meant to you? It must have been a magical thing.
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, growing up in Augusta, it was cool to play golf as a kid. There was no -- a lot of places, you play football, you play soccer, basketball. As a kid here, golf was a cool thing to play.
So our junior programs in Augusta, growing up with the Augusta area Junior Golf Association, all of the competition, really. I remember the class that I graduated with, my age group at Augusta Country Club, there were five of us that got Division 1 golf scholarships and we just played at the same club. John Ingler (ph) being one of them who played some golf on the PGA TOUR as well.
We had a great junior program. And then the Masters, obviously it comes along every April. If you ever needed some enthusiasm to get going, this did it. Now sort of once a year, you've got this kick, if you will, of, hey, man, get going, this is the Masters.
And Augusta National, I mean, it speaks for itself. It's as close as I've seen to heaven to this point. It's a great place. There's nothing wrong with it. You know, from the membership who have been extremely kind to me, I've been lucky enough to develop some friendships with some of the members here. They all love the game of golf. You know, I mean, they have got a great place to play, but they love the game as well.
The whole place has been special. It was to my advantage to grow up in Augusta really to be a golfer.

Q. Can you remember when you first came here?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I came here in '87, and some guy from Augusta won that year then. (Laughter)
Q. Mr. Morris obviously talked about your start to the year. You could have easily finished second three times, as well. Would that have been enough to put you where you are coming into this week, or did you need that win at Riviera?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No. I needed the win, for sure. I finished second ten times now I think. And, yeah, I needed the win.
As much as that looks like it's one spot for a second, just to come out on top, I needed that.
And it's like I said, a lot of people win and they are happy and excited, and sure, I was that; I was more relieved when I did. I never expected Bill to bogey the 72nd hole, a player of his caliber, with his short game, I never expected him not to get that ball up-and-down.
Then I'm going into a playoff against Phil Mickelson and I don't win on the 18th hole, now I'm going to the 10th hole at Riviera, which obviously plays into his favor with his short game. To get by that hole, to come out on top, I mean, that was real big for my confidence. So, yeah, I needed to win a tournament to feel as if I do now, as opposed to finishing with three seconds again, for sure.

Q. Speaking of '87, that was really an inspiration moment for you to get into this game; do you feel a little bit old that it's been 20 years now since that basically triggered you to play golf, and do you hope that there's a bit of magic in the air for another Augusta guy this year?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I guess you look back ten years ago, you had Tiger's win here which was huge, and ten years before that, Larry Mize's win. Larry Mize winning here was definitely big for me. I didn't appreciate it at the time. Obviously I'm seven, eight years old and I didn't realize how big of a feat it was, a person from Augusta winning the Masters.
People don't talk about who he beat in that playoff either. You go down in a playoff against Ballesteros and Norman; Larry Mize is not the favorite going into that playoff, let's face it.

Q. Were you rooting for Ballesteros?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No, I was rooting for Larry. (Laughter) But for him to come out on top of that and to be from Augusta, and obviously the chip he holed at 11, you've got to play some good golf to get in that position against those names.
Yeah, that was a big part of my growing up, to see a guy from Augusta that won the Masters that's right here in my backyard; I don't think I knew how difficult then this tournament was to win, but I do now.

Q. Do you think the way you're playing this year, another Augusta guy Vaughn Taylor is playing well this year, do you think the stars could be aligned for another Augusta moment?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, I would certainly hope. So I know Vaughn is playing well. He's had a nice start to the year. He's a very good player, very calm. I would love nothing more obviously and I've said it for years and I've probably said enough about what this tournament means to me. No, it would be very, very special, yes.

Q. A lot of golf fans may not tune in until this time of year to watch the Masters; they don't watch the previous tournaments leading up to it and they may hear a reference to the FedExCup and you have got off to a great start; is this growing in significance? Is it talked about amongst players?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, absolutely. First off, you have FedEx to come in and sponsor and support it and support Tim's idea of the FedExCup is huge, and we owe them a thank-you for that.
And it is talked about amongst the players. That is a big deal. You know, it's a big enough deal to change our schedule, and to move some of the tournaments around at the end of the year; to have a playoff format in golf for the first time to build up THE TOUR Championship. Absolutely.
I was leading it for a while. I'm not now; I just got passed. But I think you'll see a lot more talk and a lot more emphasis on that when the Playoffs do come around, when the players are re-seeded, and absolutely, it's a big deal. Ask the guy that wins it.

Q. You've touched on it already, but with your game in so much better shape now than this time a year ago, what are your expectations going into this week?
CHARLES HOWELL III: You know, I haven't done well in this tournament having big expectations. And I know that sounds crazy, but, you know, this golf course here will do a lot to sort of pull you out of your own normal rhythm and your own game. You sort of see an innocent-looking flag up there and you may change your game plan a little bit and go at it and next thing you know, you've had a number.
So the best thing I can do this week is, as much as I can, treat this as a normal event, and we all know that it's not. We all know that the pressure is there and the golf course is there, but the best thing that I can do is just try to treat this as if it were just another stop on the PGA TOUR, truthfully, and that's not an easy thing to do, especially when a place is very special to you.
But at the end of the day, I think that this golf course requires so much patience and composure that the man that wins it will have the most of it.

Q. I'm just curious if you ever had a chance to talk to Larry Mize about the significance of an Augusta native winning and what it means to the City.
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, I've obviously talked to Larry, and he's -- when I first came out on Tour, he was very nice to me. We played a few practice rounds together. I actually picked his brain a lot on putting, truthfully.
But, yeah, we spoke about the Masters quite a bit. And even Larry will tell you how difficult this golf tournament was to win; but how, that he hung in there and trusted himself, obviously, and going into a playoff against two giants of the game at the time. Just more or less inspiration stuff.
Larry is still the same guy today that he was 20 years ago when he won the tournament. I just wish that some day I could copy what he did.

Q. How much would you attribute the possibility of not being here to your play so far this year? The potential of not being here earlier in the year, how much did that play in your motivation?
CHARLES HOWELL III: That was a huge part, for sure. I didn't need to look very hard to see what my goals were for the start of the year.
At the beginning of the year, you know, I, as well as I'm sure a lot of players, wrote down goals and sort of set them, and it was pretty easy getting back into the Masters was on the top of my list. Where I looked at it, where I was in the World Ranking, 86th, and what I needed to do to get to the Top-10 on the Money List to qualify for the current year; it wasn't too easy of a task truthfully. The World Ranking system is difficult to move up in, unless you do play really, really well. And obviously Top-10 on the Money List is a tough thing as well.
And even after playing well early in the year, I still wasn't completely in this golf tournament until I won at Riviera. So I still could have had a pretty good start to the year and not made this.
You know, I'm very thankful to be here this week. It's definitely a privilege for me to be sitting here at this golf tournament and hopefully I can take advantage of it.

Q. A year after the big changes here, how would you, with all of your knowledge of this golf course, describe Augusta National now?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, the length of it, I think, is fine. I don't think that anybody at Augusta National, the membership, or if you look back at the older writings Bobby Jones had, would have wanted to see this golf course reduced to a driver and a pitching wedge.
You know, the players today are more fit. Players' equipment fit them better. So the golf ball is obviously going farther. And I think the changes in length have just kept up with the times. Then everything else on top of that, the firm, fast greens, the pressures, the fall-off areas around them; this golf course tests every aspect of your game. And the changes I think are great. I think there's -- you know, even so today, with the ball starting to roll a little bit on the fairways, I think the length is right where they want it to be. You know, we still haven't seen it really firm and fast since they have made the length changes. So hopefully Mother Nature cooperates and we see it this year.

Q. It's been quite some time since you were first described as the next big thing in the game; do you have a reasonable explanation why it's taken you to get to the position where you are now where people are generally looking at you as a proper contender for a championship like this?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I think it takes time to sort of find a player's, you know, routines, rhythms, what works for them. You know, you see like a Vijay Singh loves to hit a lot of balls and he loves to spend a lot of time practicing and that's what works for Vijay.
You know, you see a lot of different players have their own sort of MO. I think it's just taken me a bit of time to find that. It's taken me a bit of time to get my relationships with the people that help me where they need to be. Case in point is my relationship with David Leadbetter, keeping things a lot more simple, a lot more direct. The time that David and I do spend together, we're focusing a lot on short game, focusing on hitting golf shots, and putting some feel into the game, as opposed to creating the perfect-looking swing.
Now, I grew up on the driving range in Lake Nona in Orlando watching David work with Nick Faldo, and David creating this robot if you will and that was my model. I wanted to have a perfect-looking golf swing and I wanted to have the mechanics and technical aspects of it perfect, and I think I sort of got bogged down a little bit in that; as opposed to let's work on our golf swing and make it better, but let's also try to find a way to score and win this game. Because at the end of the day, the lowest score wins, the not prettiest golf swing wins. I think it's taken me a long time to grow up and learn those things.

Q. Have you ever gone out just for fun in a practice round and dropped a ball where Larry Mize chipped in from on 11 and given it a shot, and talk about that and just the impossibility of that?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I have put a tee down where I best think the hole was that day and hit the shot.
I don't think people have any idea how quick that is, going that direction. All of the members here laugh, because they know, that that shot was -- you know, the composure for him to pull it off under that situation, because obviously the nerves, he knows that Greg is at worst going to make a 4; probably going to 2-putt this ball, so he's got to get it up-and-down. To bump it on the hill like he did, wow, it was an incredible shot, but at the time it made it even more incredible really. And sort of solidify Greg Norman being snakebit, you know.

Q. Someone a week or two ago said, "Of course, you couldn't hit that chip shot there now." And I said, "Well, why?" And they said, "Well, the way they have changed the golf course, it's not -- it's not near as level." Do you agree that this guy was on something when he told me that?
CHARLES HOWELL III: I don't know, I didn't play in '87. I don't know, I really don't. You can ask -- I'm sure they could address that.
I know a lot of the changes they made, I don't know the ones right of the 11th. You can still bump it into that hill there for sure. You ain't going to flop it on the green.
BILLY MORRIS: I don't think they changed that part of the course much.

Q. I don't know, that's what the guy made a point to explain to me. He thought you had to get the ball up in the air to get it there now.
CHARLES HOWELL III: I'm sure there's a variety of ways you can play it, but off of a tight lie, with the green sloping away from you into the water, I think most guys are going to look to bump-and-run that ball before they flop it. Especially going that direction. I mean, if you're running up the length of the green, it's a different story, right. But going that direction, no. I still think especially in that situation of a playoff like that, you're going to see more players probably bump that.

Q. You spoke about '87 and kind of how that inspired you. 1997 inspired a lot of people, too, whether it's improving distance off the tee like Tiger did or getting more mentally fit; did you take anything away from Tiger as a young golfer and try to instill it in your game?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, when Tiger won in '97, I was a freshman in college. It was actually the first Masters I didn't attend. I was at Oklahoma State then.
But I mean, Tiger -- I mean, by that point in time, I was pretty much well into, you know, my routines and, you know, my work ethics, if you will, or whatnot. I mean, that really was a massive springboard for the game of golf, for him to come here, win by the margin that he did at the age he won it at. And what he's done for the game of golf for the past ten years is obviously huge.
I think we all probably owe Tiger a little bit of -- a little bit of percentage of everything that we make just because of what he's done for the game of golf, and the way he's handled himself as well. You know, obviously he has played incredibly well on the golf course but has handled himself off the golf course better than you could ever expect someone of his stature to do.
Tiger Woods has been a godsend for the game of golf, really, and obviously is a friend of mine, but I think most people would agree with that.

Q. Excusing your obvious desire to disrupt the pattern, Tiger and Phil have been exchanging green jackets here the last couple years, and really almost clean-swept the majors last two years. They finished second in the ones they did not win. What is it about those two guys that makes them able to rise above everybody else in these championships seemingly every time?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, they are pretty good to start with. You know, I don't know exactly. I mean, you've got to look at how many tournaments they have won between themselves. So they obviously come into the majors having won a lot. The wealth of confidence that that breeds is big, and on top of that, I think they have probably the two best short games in golf. You look at Tiger's short game and you look at Phil Mickelson's short game, it's hard to find fault with either one of them, isn't it.
Major championships, especially this place, is so demanding around the green, and on the green, and you look at those two guys; they are obviously the best two in the world at it. I would say that, yeah, between their confidence and their short games, I think it's hard to look much past that.

Q. Charles, on the Friday last year, did you go back to Orlando?
CHARLES HOWELL III: No, no, I stayed home. I stayed here. I left Saturday night. I watched the tournament on -- I watched the tournament on TV here on Saturday and flew home, or to my adopted home, and watched all of it on Sunday afternoon.

Q. And how close is your parents' home here?
CHARLES HOWELL III: About ten minutes away, not far at all.

Q. I wish you would talk about the Augusta gallery and its support; do you feel different here in town, and do you ever find yourself scanning the crowd for local faces that you might remember?
CHARLES HOWELL III: Well, first off, no, I definitely do feel different here. The Augusta gallery and support make it a whole lot easier. I've got a lot of friends and family here that I'm lucky to have, and it's friends and family that have watched me play be it good, bad or indifferent. It makes a huge difference for sure. Any time playing a golf tournament of this magnitude and a golf course this difficult, any support is a big deal.
So as far as scanning the gallery and looking, not a lot of that because I'm more or less trying to stay focused on what I'm doing. Being that the difficulty of the golf course, the concentration slip can -- usually doesn't lead to good things. I'm lucky to have a lot of support here and a lot of friends here that -- you know, even all of the people along the years, there would be far too many to thank them, but they know who they are, who have helped me along the way and supported me along the way. It's very nice to see them at this golf tournament for sure.
BILLY MORRIS: Charles, as a local man, I could say yes to that, you do have a lot of fans here at Augusta, and we all wish you the very best. Good luck this week.

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