Wilson’s Howell wins first career long drive event

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Paul Howell has flirted with a top finish, posting a handful of runner-up and third-place showings.

But in the midst of his third season in the World Long Drive Association, Howell, a Wilson native, captured his first win last weekend in Traverse City, Michigan, claiming the inaugural Cherry Bomb Long Drive Championship.

The event was unsanctioned, but attracted 16 of the top 25-ranked World Long Drive Association members.

“I feel like I got the monkey off my back,” the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Howell said in a telephone interview Monday evening. “It was definitely a relief to win and I hope I can carry the momentum into the rest of the season.”

The son of former Wilson and current Calabash, South Carolina, residents Maria and Tommy Howell claimed the No. 1 seed in tryouts, accumulating 980 points in five rounds. The top eight qualifiers advanced into match play.

In the quarterfinals, Howell, a graduate of Hunt High and Campbell University, ousted the No. 8 seed with a drive of 407 yards. He opposed the No. 4 seed in the semifinals and kept advancing again blasting a golf ball 407 yards.

Patrick Hopper, the No. 3 seed, provided the opposition in the finals. With both hammering drives simultaneously, Howell pounded his sixth of eight attempts a winning distance of 411 yards. Hopper’s longest drive traveled 395 yards. Howell landed six of his eight attempts within the 40-yard wide grid.

“The conditions were tough — into the wind,” the first Cherry Bomb champ explained. “I had to keep hitting it solid to get through qualifying. I kept my distance around 345-350 yards.

“Then, when you’re the No. 1 seed, you’ve always got a target on your back. They were all ranked in the top 25 and they’re guys you see week in and week out.

“The finals was a new day and I was really comfortable. I kind of knew what to expect. It was time to get the job done. Standing there and knowing I pretty much had to give it all I’ve got was a way bigger adrenaline rush than I’ve ever had in golf.”

Howell is enjoying a productive third season, taking third in competition in Mexico and fifth in Dubai. He fell 50 points shy of qualifying for the first of four Golf Channel-televised events.

Ranked No. 9 in the world, the 26-year-old Howell, on the basis of deadlocking for fifth in each of the 2016 and 2107 world championships, is exempt from qualifying for the 2018 championship this fall.

“Long term, I would love to be a world champion,” Howell looked into the future. “But the dream is still alive to play on the PGA Tour. Sometimes, winning the Long Drive takes care of everything.”

In the meantime, Howell is seeing the world.

“My dad did it with (the) tobacco (business),” he pointed out, “and, now, I’m doing it through long drive.”