'Bubble' life is just fine for working-class Borders boy Craig Howie
Life in a "bubble" is no problem whatsoever for a working-class Borders boy like Craig Howie when it involves staying for a few nights in luxurious hotels.
He's enjoyed that at both Celtic Manor and The Belfry already over the past couple of months and, this week, his humble abode is Fairmont St Andrews.
The plush Fife resort is playing host to the inaugural Scottish Championship presented by AXA and, following a change introduced for both the ASI Scottish Open and BMW PGA Championship to allow coaches to work with players at The Renaissance Club and Wentworth, it's back to a proper "bio-secure bubble" again on the European Tour.
"It can get a wee bit boring and a wee bit tedious, but you won't get me complaining about the bubble as it's a lot more luxurious than me living at home," declared Howie, who is among 16 Scots in the field this week, with a laugh.
"Coming from the Borders and also coming from a working-class family, to stay in a five-star hotel and play great golf courses and play for close to one million pounds every week, if you have to stay in a bubble for six days it doesn't faze me at all.
"On the Challenge Tour the last couple of weeks, we've stayed in a couple of dodgy places, certainly not as luxurious as the main tour. But, when you are on the main tour, you are treated perfectly. The golf courses are great and we are staying in five star hotels, so it's not all bad. Far from it, in fact."
Howie hadn't played in a European Tour event before Covid-19 struck, but he has made the most of some welcome opportunities that have fallen his way as a result of the 2020 season being turned on its head by the pandemic.
In just his second full event on the main tour, he enjoyed getting a sniff of victory in the ISPS Handa UK Championship at The Belfry before finishing in a tie for fifth behind the exciting young Dane, Rasmus Hojgaard.
The 26-year-old Peebles man then finished just outside the top 30 at Valderrama, one of the toughest tests on the European circuit, in the Andalucia Masters before giving another good account of himself when tying for 25th in the Irish Open at Galgorm Castle, near Ballymena.
"During Covid, my category has helped me out as it has meant that I've got to play in a few more main tour events than I would have this year, so I am quite thankful for that," said Howie. "I've actually never played a professional tournament in Scotland before, so this is going to be a nice week for me, even if it is without any crowds.
"I'd never had the opportunity to play in a main tour event before this year and the experience I've gained has been huge. To get that under my belt is brilliant moving forward, as has been able to compete in some of those events.
"It was great to be in contention at The Belfry. It was a new experience, something I'd never been through before at this level, so to be able to hang in the way I did was encouraging. It gave me that belief that I can compete on the main tour.
"You never really know how you are going to handle a situation until you are chucked into it, really. I felt I handled it well and it's good to know that I can do that."
For the vast majority in the field, this week's event will be a first taste of the Torrance Course at the St Andrews venue, but not Howie.
"I went to university at Stirling and we played the British Uni tournaments at Fairmont St Andrews, so I have played there a lot of times over the years," he said. "I specifically played a lot in October, November and December, when it's a different beast in the cold and wind and potentially wet.
"I've experienced the golf course at its worst, so I feel I know it pretty well. I've also played quite well there in the past, so I feel it's a course that suits my game and, if I can make the most of some local knowledge, there's no reason why I can't play well this week."
Howie sits 130th in the Race to Dubai on the European Tour and 17th in the Road to Mallorca on the Challenge Tour. He's facing some tough decisions over the next few weeks about which of those he will focus on for the rest of the season, but is happy to feel in a good place about his game again.
"Things had gone so smoothly as an amateur and also in my first year as a pro," he said of topping the third-tier ProGolf Tour rankings. "Then last year was a bit of a struggle and it was a bit of a wake up call for me, showing me that I need to try and keep improving.I can't just keep sailing on the same path. I need to be getting better and last year there were loads of aspects of my game that were not matching up.
"I worked really hard at the back end of last year, changing coach as I started with Mark Belsham, which gave me a new perspective, and I think that has been important. I've upped my work ethic and it's nice to see things paying off.
"I played well at the start of the year on the Challenge Tour and I've built my confidence from there. I think having confidence is just as important as having a solid game, especially at the top level, where the margins are so small."
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