Greenbrier Classic: Howell 'knows why he's here'
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Walking off the Old White TPC course at the Greenbrier in the same group on Tuesday were the 33-year-old club pro from Hurricane and the 34-year-old PGA veteran. It wasn't by chance they were together, even though it was kind of by chance they met a few years ago.
But from that first meeting, Sleepy Hollow Golf Club pro Jimmy Harrison and two-time PGA Tour winner Charles Howell III have forged a strong friendship.
Harrison, who started at Sleepy Hollow in the bag room as a 15-year-old, met Howell the first time when he picked him up from the airport for a Special Olympics event at the club in Hurricane. A touring pro - Chi Chi Rodriguez and Mark O'Meara in previous years - would highlight the event, and that year, it was Howell, who won an individual and team NCAA golf championship at Oklahoma State in 2000.
"It's a full day and we sat there for 36 groups to come through and we just talked all day and hit shots," Howell said. "We had a lot in common from the start."
One of those common bonds was former DuPont High and NBA star Jason Williams. Harrison noticed Howell was wearing a shirt from Isleworth Country Club near Orlando, Fla. Harrison mentioned that Williams also lived there, and he also had visited.
"I called Jason on the phone and got them together," Harrison said. "I go down there about two times a year. We'll go down, play some golf and run into Charles."
The two will text each other during the year, with Harrison offering words of congratulations and support while Howell is on the PGA Tour. Harrison will get a chance to cheer him on in person this week, as Howell tees off for the first round of the Greenbrier Classic at 7:40 a.m. Thursday.
He'll start the tournament alongside Ken Duke and 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Harrison joined Howell in his practice round in a group that included 13-time West Virginia Amateur champ Pat Carter and Wes Short Jr.
There's more to their friendship besides a mutual love of golf and other sports and mutual friends. They both appreciate the kindness in each other. Harrison smiles when talking about how Howell interacts with fans. He's been back three straight years to Sleepy Hollow for the Special Olympics event. Harrison said you couldn't find a nicer guy in sports than Howell.
"A lot of guys out here don't get it and don't want to get it," Harrison said. "He knows why he's here, and that's because of these people. He's very personable and as far as athletes go, you couldn't find a better guy."
Howell sees how Harrison interacts with the Sleepy Hollow membership. They have nothing but good things to say about Harrison, and Howell said that's not an easy job, but Harrison excels at it.
"You could tell when you meet somebody whether they're a good guy or not, and I could tell that right away," Howell said. "It's impressive he's been there that long and I could also tell right away that the membership loves him, and that says a lot, too."
The friends said there's a chance for a pretty cool two-on-two matchup on the course in Florida - Howell and Harrison versus Williams and Bubba Watson. They're still trying to put it together, but regardless, Harrison realizes the special position he's in, to befriend a pro like Howell.
"I can't even explain it," Harrison said. "It doesn't seem real. But that goes to show you what golf has done for me. Without golf and Sleepy Hollow, I don't know what I would do because it's been my whole life, pretty much. But it's definitely led me to go to some pretty cool places and meet some pretty cool people."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd