I never thought about reaching 600 events when I first started out, I just wanted to play golf for a living. I wanted to keep my card in my first year, and I did that. After a few years, I wanted to play and win a Ryder Cup – and I did that too. I wanted to win tournaments and I managed to do that. But I never became complacent, and I never had a master plan either. I was quite surprised by the response I got when I played my 600th European Tour event at the Nordea Masters last week as I hadn't given it much thought. I knew it was 600 (starts) but I wasn't really expecting so many pats on the back from people and congratulations. It almost felt like I’d won an event with everyone shaking my hand and saying well done.
But do I still get up every morning trying to play good golf and get better? Yes, I do. I still get a buzz from competing. The weeks being in contention have been less of late but when I've been in the hunt in recent times I still get the same excitement and I love it.
My favourite win was at the BMW PGA Championship in 2006. It was my most satisfying win at a time when I was in the height of my career. I also rate that final round at Wentworth as the best of my career. I went out desperate to hit it well because I knew how well I was putting. I had that feeling that this was my time, having won twice shortly before. I played beautifully for the first nine holes that Sunday and took control of the tournament from there. That said, all five of my wins have been at great tournaments, whether it be the BMW International Open, which always attracts a strong field, or Dubai of course, and then the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at the Home of Golf, St Andrews. That win at the Dunhill was arguably as satisfying as the BMW PGA Championship given that it was after a few missed opportunities to win there, and after some time away from the winner's circle.
It’s quite strange to think that my wins have only come at the bigger tournaments and not the smaller ones. Funny that, but I guess golf just doesn't work that way. Although I'm proud of my wins, I guess I'm left thinking that five wins from 600 isn't very many, which leaves me unsatisfied.
It was a bit strange beating Tiger down the stretch in China at the HSBC Champions in 2006,with other people making more of a big deal about it than I did at the time. I've always had a strong character and mentality, something which I believe to be one of my real strengths which came out in a very unconventional way when I went up against Tiger. I certainly wasn't the type to look him in the eye and say I'm going to take you down. I basically ignored him and got into my own little zone. It’s not really an interesting story but one that I found to be what works for me and how I felt I was best equipped to cope with playing against, and with, the best player in the world. That's what golf's all about. Playing your own game, controlling your outcomes and not worrying about what anyone else is doing. So to be able to do that when it mattered in China against Tiger was a very proud moment for me.
Tiger's and my own career have run almost parallel to each other. We played in the same Walker Cup and I feel very fortunate to have played at the same time as Tiger, and during the great boom of golf we had in that period. I see what he's doing now and it looks like he'll win again. I'm still very much in the same vein as him. I'm still motivated and competitive and I'd back myself to win again if I can stay healthy. I always thought if Tiger's still keen and has that mindset, why can't I? It really has been amazing though, to see how fast he's got back to the very top of the sport.
My career goals were very much based around Ryder Cup, maybe to a fault. You could argue that when I achieved those goals I became a bit lost. I wanted to be on a winning Ryder Cup side and I was fortunate to do that twice. I have a positive record and I’m very thankful for that. I was able to contribute well and play on two very strong teams and I'm immensely proud to have played my part in the history of The Ryder Cup.
I was nervous at different times at The Ryder Cup, but I'm not sure anything could surpass the nerves I felt over the two-foot putt to win in Germany back in 2005. I hadn't won in six years and was already a Ryder Cup player. The feelings I had over that perceived "tap-in" were awful. That was possibly the toughest one minute of my career because I felt like if I didn't make that putt, I would never win again. At the Ryder Cup it was a more prolonged feeling of stress, tension, and excitement. You're always aware that just around the corner you could easily be a hero or a villain, it certainly feels that way. It heightens the senses that you have the entire week - it's incredible and so draining emotionally.
I was the last person on the European Tour to use a wooden driver.My first summer on Tour we changed to the regular clubs. A good drive back then was going 240-250 yards through the air. The way the game is played now is remarkably different. Back then it was very much about shot shaping much more than it is now. Clearly, the skill set is different with a stronger emphasis on hitting it further and straighter. The Tour itself has changed dramatically as well. We travel much further than we ever did before. The game at the heart hasn't changed though. It still frustrates us, brings us to our knees, encourages us and keeps us coming back for more.
I remember my first professional event at the South African Open, which I qualified for. I had made the trip to try and qualify for the co-sanctioned events that had just started. I ended up in the last group on Sunday playing with Ernie Els and Mark McNulty at just 20 years old. I remember getting Ernie's card on the first tee on a very hot day and thinking I can't give Ernie a sweaty card back at the end of the round. So I started off by putting it in my tee pocket of my golf bag with the intention of spending 10 seconds on every hole getting the scorecard, marking it as neatly as possible and using that 10 seconds to compose myself. That strategy helped me immensely during the day to cope with the situation and magnitude of it all. I went on to finish fourth there and I've kept adopting similar odd strategies since.
That’s a lovely highlights real, thanks @EuropeanTour I really appreciate that, and the present you have presented me with will take pride of place at home. Thanks for taking the time👏👏👏— David howell (@davidhowell530) August 16, 2018
The first ten years of being on Tour and going to Australia and South Africa, places you hadn't seen before, were amazing. The joy of travelling the world has maybe passed on a bit now and I've never been a good sightseer in truth. Life has changed for me obviously with more responsibilities back home with my wife and children. Now if you said you’re playing in Australia I would think it sounds a long way away rather than an exciting prospect. However, it's been a real privilege to be a touring pro. The two places I haven't seen that I always wanted to as a kid are New Zealand and Canada, so maybe I’ll have to plan a holiday to those places sometime soon.
A golf career is stressful and hard. You have to enjoy the good moments as they're inevitably outnumbered by the low moments. You have to have a selective memory - remember the good shots and forget the bad ones. In hindsight, I would also say prepare for a long career. Your body is your engine so stay fit. It's something I've struggled with. If I had my time again I would probably be a little more diligent with my health and fitness.
The strangest moment in my European Tour career was probably a backhanded compliment from Seve.He congratulated me on beating him by saying "Congratulations, you're not a bad player for a tall man with short arms." I'm still not sure if that was a compliment or not…
I’m now the European Tournament Committee Chairman, which is a huge honour and responsibility, which could end up being my proudest achievement of all my time on Tour. To still have the respect of my fellow players is something I'm very proud of and a role I take very seriously.
My plan has always been to play as long as I can and then onto the Staysure Tour. My body hasn't quite kept to that in recent years but I'm a golfer at heart and I would love to keep competing. If my body has other ideas then I really enjoy the commentary and television work, which I would love to pursue should I be unable to play competitively.
You can follow David on Twitter -@davidhowell530.