Arguably one of the best American-born players in his 20s on the PGA Tour, Augusta native Charles Howell III had a great year in 2007. His second win came at the famed Riviera CC—a victory that kick-started his best year as far as PGA Tour earnings are concerned, having amassed more than $2.8 million on the golf course. For '08, Howell's game looks even better, thanks to a newfound confidence in his swing, putting and, most of all, in his new golf clubs. We took a few minutes to ask Howell a few questions about his plans for '08, his golf swing and his new equipment.
GT: Seems a lot of players, even on the PGA Tour, have adopted the I'd rather hit it long, high and straight approach to iron play. Where do you find yourself among your peers? Are you a feel player or a mechanical one?
Charles Howell III: Most people label me as a mechanical player in comparison to my peers. However, over the last year, I have begun to hit a lot more half shots, and I've been working the ball at different trajectories—especially within 120 yards.
GT: Do you prefer blade-style short irons? (Some equipment experts feel most amateurs can actually play just as well with blade-style short irons). What are your thoughts?
CH: Many golf purists certainly believed in blade irons. However, over the last few years, more Tour players have gravitated toward the mixed set. To me, the most important aspects of the iron are the topline and shape of the toe. [The new J36 irons have both a thin topline and nicely shaped toe—a look that Tour players like.] Many of the mixed/combo sets today look awfully good by incorporating these two design features. I use a mixed set from Bridgestone that has cavity-back long irons and a blade design in the short irons. This combination allows me some forgiveness in the long irons while providing me the control I desire in the short irons. In the future, Bridgestone plans to make the concept available for everyone, which will only help amateur players.
GT: What, if any, modifications do you make to your irons? Is there a particular thing you like to do?
CH: I have fairly large hands, so I have my grips built up a little extra. Typically, I do not use lead tape.
GT: What are a couple quick tips that the amateur can learn from you about iron play?
CH: On the golf course, I try not to think about mechanics too much. So, in practice I focus on my alignment, setup and making a good turn with my irons when preparing for an event.
In playing in pro-ams with amateurs, I would encourage amateurs to do two things to become better iron players:
1. Don't swing so hard. Many amateurs are swinging as hard as possible to gain distance with little regard for accuracy.
2. Hit enough club. Amateurs see the pros hitting 175-yard 8-irons and want to do the same.
GT: There's been a lot of talk about how a golf ball performs with a driver—more so than what you hear about how the ball performs with irons. If you had to choose, would you take a golf ball that performs better with the driver or with your irons? How do you make that decision? What advice do you have for amateurs in selecting a ball?
CH: Luckily, ball and club technology has become so advanced that golfers really do not have to make that decision. I use Bridgestone's Tour B330-S because I like the way this ball performs with the driver, irons and around the greens. In terms of selecting a golf ball, I utilize data from the Bridgestone engineers in addition to the way the ball performs on the course. Regarding amateurs, I would encourage them to attend a product day at their club or local golf facility to learn more about golf ball technology.
I know Bridgestone offers several of these days at no charge that allow amateurs to match up with the best ball for their swing.