Two weeks ago at the John Deere Classic, Tour veteran Steve
Jones congratulated David Gossett for having made it to the
sudden-death playoff at the Greater Milwaukee Open before
losing. One problem: Gossett didn't lose in overtime in
Milwaukee. Charles Howell did. "I'd played with Steve and
thought I knew him pretty well," says Gossett. "He still got us
Last week during the International at Castle Pines Golf Club in
Castle Rock, Colo., a longtime Tour caddie came up to Howell's
table in a restaurant and congratulated him on winning the John
Deere. One problem: Howell didn't win that tournament. Gossett
did. "I must have had 20 people come up to me and say, 'Great
win,'" says Howell, who finished 11th at Castle Pines, eight
points behind winner Tom Pernice. (Gossett missed the cut.) "At
first I told people, 'I'm not David; I'm Charles.' That got to be
a hassle, so I starting saying, 'Thank you.' Eventually I said,
'Winning was so easy, it was a joke.'"
Gossett and Howell can take pride in knowing that they have made
names for themselves on the Tour this year. The faces they're
still working on. The mistaken identity stems from more than the
similarities in their looks, builds and voices. It also results
from the way they've lived parallel lives. A couple of
straight-arrow Southerners born two months apart, Gossett and
Howell, both 22, have ridden side by side through tenures as
junior phenoms, amateur standouts and college All-Americas. Now
they've solidified their reputations as the most talented
American rookies to hit the Tour since whatshisname dropped out
of Stanford five years ago. "It's exciting how, through golf,
you can develop a friendship that lasts such a long time,"
Both Gossett and Howell can recall the first time they met. It
happened on the practice green at the Future Masters in Dotham,
Ala., when they were 12. A native of Augusta, Howell already had
11 tournament titles to his name, while Gossett's reputation as a
range hound had preceded him. "I remember my dad saying, 'Watch
how hard this kid works,'" Howell says. "It seemed as if at every
tournament we were always the last guys out there practicing."
Says Gossett, who grew up in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, "I
remember he told me he had played Augusta National. My chin
A self-described dork in high school, Howell says his devotion
to his game and his studies was so intense that his parents
importuned him to develop a social life. "I tried to get him to
go out more," says Howell's mother, Debbie. "He would only say
to me, 'Mama, girls cause bogeys.'"
When a female classmate asked Debbie to persuade Charles to take
her to the senior prom, Debbie got him a tux and practically
shoved him out the door. "I assure you that was his only date in
high school," she says. "He fussed the whole time he was getting
dressed." Howell's classmates, nevertheless, voted him and his
date the king and queen of the prom, and to this day he waxes
sentimental at the very mention of that evening. "I looked like a
penguin," he says flatly.
Gossett excelled in baseball and basketball growing up, but he,
too, narrowed his focus once he got to high school. He spent the
spring semesters of his sophomore and junior years attending the
David Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Howell was named the American Junior Golf Association player of
the year in 1996; Gossett won the award in '97. Howell won the
Big 12 title as a junior at Oklahoma State in 2000; the year
before Gossett had won it as a freshman at Texas. They played
together during the final two rounds of the 2000 NCAAs, which
Howell won by eight strokes with a record score of 23-under-par
That summer they both turned pro. Howell went first, on June 26,
the day he signed up for the Canon Greater Hartford Open. (He
didn't exactly cut an imposing figure: He still had braces and
registered for the tournament with a $65 check signed by his
mother.) Because of his victory at the 1999 U.S. Amateur, Gossett
was invited to the 2000 Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, all
of which he played before becoming a pro at last August's
Gossett and Howell had vastly different results after they hit
the Tour. Gossett didn't make a cut in his nine starts, seven of
them as a pro, after the Masters. Howell, playing on sponsors'
exemptions, made the cut in seven of 13 tournaments, earning
$263,533, which left him 145th on the money list. In late October
he learned that despite his success he would still have to attend
Q school because, unbeknownst to him, one of the rules for Tour
eligibility had been changed. Bitterly disappointed, he failed to
reach the final stage of the qualifying tournament and therefore
had no status on any tour, not even the Buy.com, in 2001. Gossett
earned a Buy.com card by advancing to the final stage of Q
school. He became the only person ever to shoot 59 in that event,
but his other five rounds were in the 70s, so he failed to secure
a spot on the big Tour.
While Gossett hit the Buy.com to start the 2001 season, Howell
again tried to play his way onto the PGA Tour through sponsors'
exemptions. Under Tour rules, he needed to win $247,037--equal to
150th place on last year's final money list--in no more than seven
events or he would be ineligible for any more exemptions. He
surpassed that total in his sixth tournament, the Kemper Open in
June. Classified as a special temporary member of the PGA Tour,
Howell has won $889,706 this year, though technically the money
is unofficial (he would rank 38th on the official money list)
until the end of the season. Then, if he's still among the top
125, he will become only the fourth player to earn his Tour card
through sponsors' exemptions. (Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson and
Tiger Woods are the others.)
Howell has the ninth-longest driving average (292 yards) on Tour,
which seems preposterous because he's only 5'10" and 155 pounds.
"To be honest, I don't completely understand how I hit it so
far," Howell says. "I work out a lot, but my maximum bench press
is only 225 pounds. I have a lag in my swing, and I guess God
blessed me with fast hands."
Gossett, resigned to playing on the Buy.com tour, from which the
top 15 money-winners graduate to the Tour at season's end, had
six top 10 finishes in his first 12 events this year and, heading
into the John Deere (he got in on a sponsor's exemption), was
ranked 14th on the Buy.com money list with $116,288. Surpassing
his wildest expectations, Gossett seized the lead at the Deere
with a 64 in the second round and never gave it up. He clinched
the win, which carries a two-year exemption for the PGA Tour,
with a testy up-and-down on the 72nd hole. "I felt so peaceful
coming down the stretch," Gossett says. "It wasn't overwhelming
at all. It's such a relief to [qualify for the Tour] so early.
Now I can take a deep breath and get to work."
Instead of flying to Omaha, the site of the next Buy.com event,
the morning after the Deere, Gossett headed for Denver and the
International. Given the vertiginous change his life had
undergone, not to mention the fact that the International was
his fifth tournament in six weeks, it wasn't surprising that he
missed the cut. He had plenty of reasons to be sanguine as he
departed. During his press conference on July 31 at Castle
Pines, he learned his Deere win had qualified him for next
week's PGA Championship, the only major he hasn't played, and
he's already looking forward to next year's season-opening
Mercedes Championships, at which the field will consist only of
winners from 2001. "I've moved up from coach to first-class,"
So it was that last Friday night Gossett and Howell were
together in a Denver restaurant toasting--with nonalcoholic
beverages--the good life as members of the PGA Tour. No longer
the one-date dork he was in high school, Howell, who last year
signed a lucrative 3 1/2-year endorsement deal with Callaway,
sat next to his wife, Heather, a fellow Oklahoma State alum whom
he married two months ago in Hawaii. (Apparently, wives cause
birdies.) Gossett has yet to agree to a major endorsement
contract because his business manager recommended that he wait.
His patience is about to pay off.
"We're essentially best friends," Howell says of Gossett, who's
single. "If anybody understands a golfer, it's another golfer.
When I lost in that playoff in Milwaukee, I went into the
scorer's tent, put a towel over my head and cried. The only
person I know who really understands that is David. We don't
have anybody else."
The parallel lives thing has worked out pretty well, so it makes
sense that they should ride it out a while longer. The mistaken
identity thing? No problem, really. No problem at all.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND Mistaken well-wishers saluted Howell (near left) for Gossett's breakthrough victory.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND LOW ROAD Gossett, who shot a 59 in Q school yet missed earning his card, honed his game on the Buy.com tour until winning the Deere.
COLOR PHOTO: E.M. PIO RODA INVITATION ONLY A hot ticket after breaking the NCAA tournament record in 2000, Howell had no trouble securing sponsors' exemptions.
Says Howell's mother, "I tried to get him to go out. He would
say, 'Mama, girls cause bogeys.'"