David Howell: I can only say to Golf, ‘thanks for being my life. I owe you big time.’

For thirty-five years I have played the game of golf, incessantly thinking about it, planning for it, caring about it, stressing over it and trying to improve at it. But right now, just as it is for everyone else, all that had seemed normal and natural, for the time being has been taken away from us.

So, whilst we don’t know what the near future holds for anyone, let alone sport and professional golf, it seems like a good time to look back, to remember what it was about the game of golf that first got me hooked – just what it is about this game that has kept me enthralled over all these years.

I was about nine years old when I first hit a golf ball in the UK. It was a ladies 5-iron which I discovered in the cupboard under the stairs, along with a couple of stray balls used on the football pitch behind our house was all it took. That first purely-struck shot either resonates with you or it doesn’t. In my case, the game had me hooked right away.

It wasn’t long before I had put a golf ball through someone’s front window, my first ever flying lie. But one thing I loved about the game was the fact you could do it on your own. Living where I did, I basically had my own practice ground, after football had finished for the day, and when the school caretaker didn’t kick me off.


MADE TO FEEL AN EQUAL

One family lesson at Broome Manor Golf Club helped to deepen my intrigue and soon hitting balls on the driving range under floodlights on a cold English winter day seemed like the best thing in the world for me. When I have a 60-yard shot on Tour, even after all these years, I recall the first floodlit pond on the driving range at Broome. It was 60 yards to the base of the light, that’s just what that shot will always mean to me. But, more than anything, it was the environment of golf that had its hold over me. I loved the way our golf club scooped up the youngsters and made them feel as though they were equals to the adult members.

I played golf with pensioners, and teenagers, scaffolders and lawyers. I would play at 4.06pm on a Saturday and Sunday because it cost just 50 pence at that time in the afternoon. When we ran out of orange squash we would drink from a pipe on 16th tee that was hidden by a manhole cover. How did we know it was safe to drink? Our pensioner playing partner had worked for the water board.

We played adult/junior competitions on the 9-hole course. Standing on the first tee gave me the same feeling I imagined I would feel at St Andrews at the first hole of The Open Championship. That’s the beauty of golf – the feelings never really change, only the scores and the expectations.

I loved the way the game seemed to consume people, adults with jobs and lives who seemed just as addicted to the game as I was. I loved the fact that my newest and best friends were formed through a mutual love of the game of golf. It was reassuring that many of those friends are still attached to the game in some way 30 years later.

I loved the smell of freshly cut grass and the sound of spikes on gravel pathways, the banter on the 3rd tee where a twenty-minute wait was guaranteed due to what now would seem like an innocuous pond on a short 160-yard par-three. The posh houses that bordered the course seemed like a world away from my family home. Yet I loved the fact that one day I would live there, too.


FAMILY DREAM

Golf became such a huge part of our family life through my golfing exploits that both my mother and father asked for their ashes to be scattered beneath the trees behind the 18th green. It gave me a warm feeling to think that those trees will start to play a part in the closing moments of the Broome Manor golfers’ rounds in the years to come. When I think of that, it always brings a smile to my face.

I loved playing new courses, and going on golfing outings, and I loved going to tournaments to watch the stars play. I loved that I was one of only 12 people who watched Seve Ballesteros warm up, with his caddy catching balls in a baseball glove at St Pierre Golf Club. I loved the memory of having the honour of playing against Seve, and Greg Norman, and Bernhard Langer and Sir Nick Faldo, and Woosie (Ian Woosnam), – and had the odd pint with ‘Oli’ (Jose Maria Olazabal) – and then met a guy called Tiger Woods.

I love that it all came true because of a guy called Paul Hunt, a kind-hearted assistant pro in Swindon, who paired me with a kid called Jason Hempleman, who would one day caddy for me, and then Monty (Colin Montgomerie) and then an Italian called Fran (Francesco Molinari), who would one day seal the point that would win The Ryder Cup.

I love that I have played at Augusta and won at St Andrews, helped a European Team win the tournament that truly inspired me to try my best, and I love that I met my wife who had my kids all because of a little white ball and some smoothly cut grass.

There is no golf right now. Soon it will come back, the mishits and slices, the lip-outs and plugged lies, the sanded divots and bad bounces, the flush down the middle and cheers from the crowd. For now, until we are back, I can only say to golf, thanks for being my life. I owe you big time.

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