Craig Howie vows to 'knuckle down' as he focuses back on Challenge Tour

Spare a thought for Craig Howie. Just over two months ago, the Peebles man was enjoying feeling the heat of battle on the European Tour and now he’s literally in cold storage at home in the Borders.

Craig Howie in action during day the Challenge Tour Grand Final at T-Golf and Country Club in Mallorca in NOvember. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.
Craig Howie in action during day the Challenge Tour Grand Final at T-Golf and Country Club in Mallorca in NOvember. Picture: Octavio Passos/Getty Images.

The 26-year-old had never played on the main tour before last season, though you’d never have thought that as he made the most of his opportunities in a new UK Swing that got the circuit up and running again following the Covid-19 lockdown.

Having already finished fourth behind fellow Scot Marc Warren in the Austrian Open, a co-sanctioned event with the Challenge Tour, Howie produced a polished performance in tying for fifth behind Dane Rasmus Hojgaard in the ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry.

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He made the cut seven times in 11 starts, culminating with a top-25 finish in the Golf in Dubai Championship in December, but Howie is now wondering when he will get the chance to tee up again and not just on the main tour.

Craig Howie's most recent appearance was in the Golf in Dubai Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in early December. Picture: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images.

With the card categories having been reset for the 2021 campaign, the Stirling University graduate wasn’t even close to getting into the three events in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Saudi Arabia on the recent Middle East Swing.

His plan to start the new season with three tournaments in South Africa on the Challenge Tour around this time was scuppered by the coronavirus with the second tier circuit now not due to get underway until the end of April in the Rainbow Nation.

“It was obviously gutting to hear that the SA events have been postponed, but it wasn’t a complete surprise to me,” admitted Howie, who is managed by Paul Lawrie through the former Open champion’s Five Star Sports Agency.

“We all want to be back playing asap, but with how things have escalated over the last few weeks, I knew beforehand that travelling to SA was going to be pretty unlikely. I think the tour has made the right call and hopefully we can get back playing in April.”

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After earning his step up by topping the ProGolf Tour Order of Merit, Howie finished 118th on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca in 2019 as Calum Hill and Connor Syme both secured their main tour cards.

Howie had that same target in his sights after a promising start to the 2020 campaign in South Africa and, taking everything into account, he was hugely heartened by ending up in 18th spot at a time when those chances were also cropping up on the top circuit.

“Last year was a massive year for me,” he added. “Before 2020, I had not played in a single European Tour event, so to gain that kind of experience is invaluable. To give myself a chance of winning a couple of events was beyond any of my expectations that I might have had at the beginning of the season.

“However, as the year progressed, I started to believe more and more than I could not only compete, but that I could win. I think that shift in mindset has been huge and should hopefully stand me in good stead for the 2021 season.

“Unfortunately, though, I don’t expect to play more than a handful of events on the European Tour this year as the tour isn’t going to hold everyone’s category for another year which means that everyone will be back playing regularly.

“I certainly won’t be as fortunate as I was last year. That is perhaps my one disappointment from the 2020 season, that my good play hasn’t resulted in an improved category and, therefore, more playing opportunities. But it isn’t something that I can dwell on, I just need to knuckle down and focus on getting off the Challenge Tour.”

Announced last month, the 2021 Challenge Tour schedule comprises 25 tournaments in 15 different countries, with 20 cards - an additional five - up for grabs.

“Honestly, it’s hard to know what I’m thinking at the minute,” admitted Howie of eventually getting down to business. “The schedule looks great and I’m itching to get back playing again. Even if it had looked terrible, I’d still have been buzzing at the thought of playing tournament golf again!

“The tour has done well to secure so many events and I really hope that they will all be able to go ahead. On the other hand, it’s hard not to be a bit sceptical. Regarding the pandemic, recently it feels like we have heard nothing but bad news and tighter restrictions.

“The restrictions on travel are pretty tough and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of that changing any time soon, so I do fear that the start of my season will be delayed even further. I really hope I’m wrong, but I think I can probably be forgiven for being a bit pessimistic.”

In the meantime, Howie is hoping for an end to the wintry weather that has gripped areas of Scotland since the start of the year. “That has been far from ideal as I’ve barely seen any grass for about a month,” he said, almost groaning. “Peebles has only been open for a handful of days since Christmas, so I’ve not played a golf course since returning from Dubai.

“I have been able to continue practising at the range, so I’m still getting work done, but it’s frustrating as I’m not getting to do everything I want to. It can be a bit uninspiring at times but you’ve got to just knuckle down and do what you can.

“I have toyed with the idea of travelling to sunnier climates but, with the start of the season still being so far away, as well as all the current restrictions, I didn’t think it was a great idea. I think if I want to keep spending my winters in Scotland, an indoor swing studio would be a wise investment!”

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