Craig Howie has his eye on the prize of the European Tour at Grand Final
We’re not sure if Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz was particularly keen on golf but, on the yellow brick road towards the European Tour, it seems there’s no place like home.
“When I was young, I always thought I’d move away from Peebles but, as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised what a great place it is to live,” said Craig Howie of his cherished base in the rolling hills of the Borders. “I guess I must be a small-town boy at heart.”
This small-town boy is facing a big week. On the brink of promotion to the main European circuit, Howie is aiming to seal the deal at the Challenge Tour Grand Final, which starts today, in Mallorca.
The 27-year-old Scot sits 16th on the second-tier tour’s rankings, with the leading 20 at the end of this nail-nibbling, nerve-shredding showdown moving up.
Given the high stakes and the position Howie is in, you could forgive him for nervously peering over his shoulder like someone who has just heard a bin lid clattering behind them while walking down a dark lane. Howie is adopting a positive outlook, though.
“If you start worrying about what others lower than you on the rankings are doing, then you’re not focussed on the job in hand,” he said. “Obviously, I would’ve loved to be here with my tour card already secured but it’s still in my hands. I’m sure the guy who is sitting 20th would prefer to be in my position.”
On a circuit of ruthless competition and strength in depth, the scrapping, elbowing and jockeying for position on the Challenge Tour resembles the queues to get into the COP26 summit.
A maiden win on the circuit in May helped him burst away from the pack but, at this nip-and-tuck level, victory doesn’t guarantee anything.
“I’d had a great start to the year and was second on the rankings after just six events but, in golf, things are never simple,” added the former Scottish Boys’ champion, who is part of Paul Lawrie’s management stable. “I didn’t have a great middle part of the season. I didn’t play poorly but because of the dispersion of money on the Challenge Tour, you really need big finishes. Finishing 15th, 20th or 22nd wasn’t doing a lot for me. I was picking up points but not big ones and eventually other guys caught up on me. It’s been a bit frustrating but nobody ever said than getting on to the European Tour was going to be easy.”
Howie joined the professional ranks in 2018 and cut his teeth on the third-tier Pro Golf Tour. A victory and three second places during his rookie year earned him promotion to the Challenge Tour but the 2019 campaign was something of an eye-opening experience. It was a bit eye-watering too.
“The whole of 2019 was a real kick in the nuts,” he reflected with a wince. “Every week was a struggle. I don’t think I finished higher than 35th. Things had been relatively easy for me in my first year as a pro. I hadn’t encountered many hurdles but the first year on the Challenge Tour was a real reality check. It made me realise how hard I needed to work and what areas I needed to improve. I was nowhere near the level I needed to be at.
“Golf is a hard sport to be successful at and it’s full of highs and lows. There are so many good players and you don’t have to be playing that badly to be struggling. You spend a lot of time by yourself, on the road and away from home and it can all build up.
“I had to go to the Qualifying School just to get my Challenge Tour card back and I was pretty proud of the way I dug deep and turned things around towards the end of that year. I feel I’ve served my apprenticeship on the Challenge Tour now and I’ve learned a lot.”
All being well, Howie’s golfing education should continue on the European Tour next year. “This was always the dream so it’s pretty cool to be so close to getting it,” he said. “But I want to achieve more than just my tour card. There’s always another step and a higher goal to aim for. That stops you getting complacent.”
This small-town boy is preparing for the big time.
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