Craig Howie overcomes ‘struggles’ to have European Tour card in sights

Craig Howie is hoping to continue Scotland’s success story on the Challenge Tour in recent years after overcoming a torrid rookie season to be more determined than ever to follow in the footsteps of Bob MacIntyre, David Law, Grant Forrest, Liam Johnston, Connor Syme and Calum Hill by securing a step up to the European Tour.

Craig Howie, pictured at the season-opening Limpopo Championship, is pleased with his start to the Challenge Tour campaign. Picture: Shaun Roy/Sunshine Tour/Gallo

The 25-year-old Peebles man has started the new campaign strongly on the second-tier circuit, recording better finishes in two events on its new South African Swing than he did in 
18 tournaments in total last year and already having racked up more earnings.

That has put a smile back on Howie’s face after admitting there had been times last season when he felt at a low ebb following his graduation in top spot from the German-based ProGolf Tour at the end of 2018.

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“Last year was massive for me in terms of learning and developing,” admitted Howie, who is managed by Paul Lawrie through the Aberdonian’s Five Star Sports Agency. “At the end of my amateur career and in my first year as a professional, the game felt pretty easy to me and everything kind of went along swimmingly without too many bumps along the road.

“The 2019 Challenge Tour season was a complete reality check! I had an injury at the start of the year and, when I came back, my game was poor. I was missing a lot of cuts and, when I did make a cut, I finished near the bottom.

“It was pretty tough to deal with and I was spending a lot more money that I was making! I think that everyone needs to go through some kind of adversity like that, though. Golf tests you in so many different ways and I think my 2019 season was simply that, a test.

“My first year on the Challenge Tour asked me a lot of questions and, at the end of it all, it only confirmed to me how much I want it and how hard I am willing to work to get there. I genuinely do believe that the struggles I went through on the course had to happen and that I will be a much better player moving forward because of them.”

In his first outing of the new campaign, Howie finished in a tie for 10th in the Limpopo Championship before claiming a tie for 25th in the Dimension Data Pro Am last weekend, where the field included a number of leading South Africans, including two-time Open champion Ernie Els.

On the back of those efforts, the Borderer sits 19th in the Road to Mallorca rankings, with the top 20 - five more than in recent seasons - securing European Tour cards following the Grand Final in Mallorca in early November.

“Everyone knows that South Africa has a lot of great players, and they become even harder to beat when playing in South Africa, so to put in some decent performances over there was pleasing,” added Howie.

“My game was pretty solid without any fireworks. My long game was really solid so, for the most part I was able to keep dropped shots of my card, and that made it a bit easier to build a score.”

With the Challenge Tour not set to resume until early May, Howie is hoping to get a start on the European Tour in the Kenya Open in three weeks’ time and, along with stablemate Sam Locke, he is enjoying having Lawrie to lean on.

“I have enjoyed working closely with Paul, he is a great guy to have as a manager and as a mentor,” he said. “I am extremely grateful for the work he and Mikey MacDougall have done for me. When I first signed with Five Star, my main concern was sponsorship for my first CT season. Thanks to Paul, Farmfoods and Cloudcube were quick to come on board and without their help, last year would have been a whole other level of difficulty.

“There is no better person to speak to and get advice from than Paul, plus there can’t be too many managers out there who can give you a short-game lesson!”