There will be a special welcome at St Andrews this week for David Howell who will be enjoying a double celebration. Not only is it the tenth anniversary of his famous 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links victory, but he will be creating a new record for the number of appearances in European Tour / DP World Tour events.
When he tees off on Thursday, he will be making his 722nd appearance, surpassing Miguel Angel Jimenez.
David says: “Once I got to 700 and I was still on tour this year, then I was aware of it. It’s not something you set out to break of course. There’s only a few of us that have played anywhere near this number. But it’s a nice thing to have done for sure.”
His first European Tour event was the Dimension Data Pro-Am in 1996 in South Africa. He made the cut and finished 44th. The next week he played in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at Houghton, shot 66 in the first round to finish eighth.
“I was 20. It seems remarkable that I am still here. If you’d asked me on day one I would have snapped your hand off for what I’ve achieved. If you asked me after 15 years, maybe not. I’ve had an up and down career, with some big highs and some big elongated lows to be fair as well,” he says.
What have been the highlights of David’s 722 appearances? He picks out the Australian PGA in 1998, the 2004 and 2006 Ryder Cups, the 2006 BMW PGA and the 2013 Alfred Dunhill Links.
He says: “It was my dream to play in a winning Ryder Cup side. To play in the 2004 side was special. It really felt surreal to be playing rather than watching on television. Couldn’t get my head round it really. Amazing experience.
“I think then the BMW PGA; the nearest thing to a Major Championship on our Tour. That was really me at the peak of my powers, dominating a field. That was probably the most satisfying I would say.
“And then the 2013 Dunhill, when I managed to get it across the line, with Hugh Grant there as my partner. It was incredible. To win in a play-off, holing a nice putt on a picture perfect evening with the shadows lengthening, was absolutely incredible. Really delighted that I was able to win at St Andrews.
“I’d had a good few chances. Even the very first Dunhill in 2001. I made a five at the 17th and lost to Paul Lawrie. Ernie [Els] came second and I came third. Then another chance: I made a six at the 17th, and another time a seven on 17. It had always gone wrong at the 17th hole.
“In 2013 I’d been in good form. I’d shot a 63 in the third round and I was in such a good place mentally. We were just getting on with things and Hugh and I were having a laugh. We talked all the way round and that really helped me, kept me in the moment, kept me upbeat. When I went to the 17th, for once the ball dropped in for par and things were going my way.
“Sudden death [against Peter Uihlein] was pretty comfortable. I’d got ten or 12 years on Pete and it seemed like a golden opportunity to win.”
Howell, who is now a regular on-course expert for Sky TV, is realistic about the future. “If I can go out and win the Dunhill again then I can be out here for a few more years, but the way I’ve been playing the last year or two you’d have to be a strong man to back me being out here next year much as I’d love to.
“I’ll play some seniors golf, and I’m really enjoying TV, which I’m sure I’m probably going to do more of.
“It’s a joy to realise that I have spent nearly 30 years with really nice people. The whole golf community really. And none more so than at the Dunhill, which is what that is all about.”