He’s what you might call the quiet man of Scottish golf. As an amateur, Craig Howie went about his business effectively but almost always under the radar. It’s been the same in his first season as a professional.
Apart from the members at his home club of Peebles, few people probably knew that he was chiselling away at the coalface on the Pro Golf Tour, one of the third-tier circuits in European golf.
Compatriot Liam Johnston started his season there and won an event in Morocco before also tasting success on the Challenge Tour, where he’s now played most of his tournaments in 2018.
Howie teed up in a couple of events on the European Tour’s feeder circuit, enjoying the opportunity to test himself at a higher level, but also turned down some other similar opportunities.
His goal all along has been to play full-time on the Challenge Tour next year and it has been accomplished. A breakthrough win in the Leipziger Golf Open in Machern, Germany, last week has catapulted him to the top of the Pro Golf Tour Order of Merit.
The top five earn automatic Challenge Tour cards and, with just three events remaining, Howie leads ahead of second-placed Chris Robb, the Aberdonian who won the Scottish Amateur Championship at Downfield in 2014.
“The feeling was incredible,” admitted Howie, a former Scottish Boys champion, of his first taste of victory in the paid ranks, which was gained at Robb’s expense in a play-off. “I’ve been knocking on the door this year without being able to get over the line, so to finally get the win was hugely satisfying. I’ve given myself a lot of chances to win going into the final round, I’ve played very solidly, especially in these last couple of months.”
Howie, who turned professional after graduating from the University of Stirling with a sports studies degree, is rightly proud of how he has stayed focused on exactly what he was trying to achieve in his first full season in the paid ranks.
“It’s been very important,” he said of concentrating on the Pro Golf Tour. “After Liam’s win in Spain, I had a few opportunities to play on the Challenge Tour, but to do so I would have had to sacrifice playing a few events on the Pro Golf Tour schedule. “Because I was doing well and was positioned high in the order of merit, I decided that I needed to focus on the Pro Golf Tour and the decision seems to have paid off now.
“It wouldn’t have been easy for me to try and juggle between the two tours and it might have been counter productive in terms of my goal for the season – to gain a Challenge Tour card for 2019. I was lucky enough to get to play two Challenge Tour events that did not clash with my Pro Golf Tour schedule, which was great for experience. They were my first Challenge Tour events and have given me even more incentive to get off the Pro Golf Tour.”
His progress has been keenly followed by those members at Peebles, where Howie cut his teeth along with his younger brother, Darren. “My biggest support comes from Peebles Golf Club,” he said. “There’s barely a member who isn’t frantically refreshing the live scoring on the Pro Golf Tour website every time I am playing.
“Peebles Golf Club and its members have been huge in helping me gather a bit of sponsorship money also so that I could play this year. Without their help, and the support of Stobo Castle, I wouldn’t have been able to play this year, never mind secure my Challenge Tour card.”
Howie’s progress is down to working with his long-time coach, Stewart Savage, as well as adding Kenny McKenzie of Clydebank-based FirstTee Fitness to his team. With that pair’s continued input, the 23-year-old is hoping it will be onwards and upwards.
“There are still a few Pro Golf Tour events to play in and I just want to keep the good form going,” he said. “There’s still points to be put on the board and money to be made so there’s plenty of incentive for me. I’m going to enter the European Tour Qualifying School this year. I should now be exempt from stage one, so it would be silly of me not to give it a go. And you never know what can happen at Q School. Connor Syme proved last year that getting your European Tour card isn’t a ridiculous impossibility. With my form in the last few weeks, I’m confident that I can go to Spain and give it a good go.”