SHANGHAI – Not long after Charles Howell III finished his final round in Las Vegas, he packed up for a trip to Asia he never imagined taking.
It wasn’t just for golf. And he wasn’t alone.
Howell took his wife and two children on a five-week tour of Asia that isn’t over yet. It started with a week in Hong Kong, and his family followed him to PGA Tour stops in South Korea, Japan and mainland China. This week, they’re off to Thailand before returning home to Florida.
“We just decided to do something we’ve never done,” Howell said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They’re old enough to get it and love it and appreciate it, but young enough where we can still manage to make it work.”
His children, Ansley Grace and Chase, are in third and second grade. Howell said they would Facetime with their teachers in their morning (evening in Florida), do their school work and then head off for adventures they can’t find inside the gates of Isleworth.
“We thought the kids would learn from this real-world experience in other countries with different languages, different currencies, different beliefs,” he said. “It’s been more fun than I thought it would be.”
That came at the start of their working vacation in Hong Kong, where tensions have been running high the last five months amid pro-democracy protests.
“With what’s going on in the world, walking straight out of a department store into a 20,000-person protest,” Howell said. “The kids talked to some of them and they explained what they were doing. And then the temples, the religions, it was just incredible.”
Howell took his son to play Hong Kong Golf Club, but that was the extent of his golf outside the three tour stops, where his best finish was a tie for eighth in the ZoZo Championship, the PGA Tour’s first official event in Japan.
“If my family wasn’t here, I would definitely not have played three in a row,” Howell said. “I wanted the kids to see the world isn’t the border of the United States, that the border isn’t the back gate at Isleworth.”
The final stop was Thailand, primarily for the kids to see the elephants. Howell is friends with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who told him he would love his home country. Nothing on the trip has disappointed thus far.
Best without a WGC
Sergio Garcia tied a dubious mark last week at the HSBC Champions. He joined Lee Westwood as the only players to have competed 60 times in the World Golf Championships without ever winning.
Both had good chances.
Garcia, who made his WGC debut as a 19-year-old, took a three-shot lead into the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational in 2014 when Rory McIlroy erased that in three holes and went on to a two-shot victory over the Spaniard.
Westwood finished runner-up to Mike Weir in the American Express Championship at Valderrama in 2000, though he made enough money that day to capture his first Order of Merit on the European Tour. He also was runner-up to Vijay Singh at Firestone in 2008, and in 2010 he lost a duel to Francesco Molinari in the HSBC Champions, Westwood’s debut at No. 1 in the world.
Only two other players have made at least 50 starts in the WGCs without ever winning – Paul Casey (52) and Jim Furyk (51).
Casey was runner-up in the Match Play in consecutive years to Geoff Ogilvy in 2009 and Ian Poulter in 2010. Furyk had two close calls at Firestone, losing in a seven-hole playoff to Tiger Woods in 2001, and making double bogey from the 18th fairway to finish one shot behind Keegan Bradley in 2012.
Time for a break
Sungjae Im teed it up in January in Hawaii, and it seems as though he never stopped.
Finally, the PGA Tour rookie of the year is taking a break.
No one among the top 50 in the world has played more than the 21-year-old South Korean. There were only nine weeks Im did not play, and he was not eligible for three of them – Sentry Tournament of Champions, the Masters and the U.S. Open.
He chose not to play opposite-field events in Puerto Rico and Kentucky. Im missed only two stand-alone PGA Tour events – the Zurich Classic (a team event) and Las Vegas, and he missed Las Vegas only so he could travel to South Korea in time for the Genesis Championship on the Korean Golf Tour, the only event he won.
The other two weeks were open between the season-ending Tour Championship and the season opener at the Greenbrier.
Why not play the PGA Tour’s final two events at Mayakoba and Sea Island?
“After this tournament, it’s unwise to go back for two tournaments and come back again to Korea,” he said.
Among those who earned LPGA Tour cards at the two-week Q-Series were Albane Valenzuela and Andrea Lee, Stanford teammates who are Nos. 2 and 3 in the women’s world amateur ranking.
Next up is a decision on when to take up LPGA membership.
Both are seniors and to turn pro in January would be a blow to Stanford. The other option is to follow the path of Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi, who deferred their membership until June after the NCAA championship. Even with a short season, Kupcho made it to the CME Group Tour Championship, while Fassi did well enough to keep her card for next year.
Brian “Bo” Martin was voted HSBC caddie of the year for his work with Shane Lowry in winning the British Open at Royal Portrush. … The three PGA Tour events on the Asian swing were won by players from the top 10 in the world – Justin Thomas in South Korea (No. 5), Tiger Woods in Japan (No. 8) and Rory McIlroy in China (No. 2). … Americans had won seven straight World Golf Championships until McIlroy captured the HSBC Champions. … The Irish Open next year goes to Mt. Juliet, where a WGC event was held twice. Tiger Woods won in 2002, while Ernie Els won in 2004. … Total prize money for the three PGA Tour events on the Asian swing was $29.75 million. The total prize money for the entire PGA Tour season in 1986, the year Jack Nicklaus won his last Masters, was $25.4 million. … The Boca Raton Championship on the PGA Tour Champions will be a Charles Schwab Cup playoff event next year, replacing the Invesco QQQ Championship at Sherwood Country Club in California. That gives the postseason stops in Virginia, Florida and Arizona.
Stat of the week
Eight consecutive PGA Tour winners held the 54-hole lead until Brendon Todd won in Bermuda.
“The one thing I remember about that week, I beat Anthony Kim in a playoff, and I think it’s the last time I’ve ever seen him.” – Rory McIlroy, on his first victory in China in 2011 at the unofficial Shanghai Masters.
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