Howard, 17, wants to make LPGA history

Ginger Howard during the first round of LPGA Q-School.

Ginger Howard during the first round of LPGA Q-School.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ginger Howard wants to become the fifth black golfer in LPGA history to earn a tour card. But what she really wants is to become the first black player to win an LPGA event.

“It would be a privilege,” said Howard, who opened with a 2-under 70 on Wednesday at LPGA International in the final stage of LPGA Q-School to trail Christine Song by four strokes.

Howard turned professional last summer immediately after the LPGA granted her a special exemption to play Q-School as a 17-year-old. (The tour's minimum age is 18.) She won her pro debut on the SunCoast Ladies Series that week and never looked back.

It’s easy to question whether Howard is ready for a stage as big and daunting as the LPGA. Her outlook for the week speaks volumes to her experience.

“I treat this tournament like any other SunCoast event,” she said.

Howard has won five SunCoast tournaments. Those fields, by and large, are weaker than your average AJGA invitational.

She never has played in an LPGA event. In fact, the first time she even attended one was two weeks ago at the CME Group Titleholders in Orlando, and even then she merely went to friend Lexi Thompson’s news conference.

But … it might be time to give Howard more credit.

She beat 232 players at second stage in Venice, Fla., and gained a tremendous confidence boost. Her mother, Gianna, said that tournament now serves as the marker in terms of what needs to be done.

In Daytona Beach, where nerves can cripple some of the game’s best, Howard looked at ease with younger sister Robbi on the bag.

“We just had a lot of fun,” Robbi said. “That’s all that really matters.”

The original plan was to have Ginger’s father, Robert, on the bag next year. He stayed back in Bradenton this week with the couple’s two young sons: R.J. (9) and Giulian (3). Gianna, a nurse at the IMG Academy, walked the course pushing an empty stroller.

As of now, it looks like Robbi, 16, might loop for her sister, should Ginger hold on to finish among the top 40 and ties on Sunday and secure LPGA membership. The Howard girls have been home-schooled for years.

Ginger Howard outhit her playing competitors by as much as 30 yards on some holes, routinely splitting the fairway. She averages about 240 yards off the tee. Howard hit 13 greens on the Champions Course, dropping five birdies. She three-putted the last to finish 2 under.

Should Howard go on to earn a card this week, or possibly even win the final stage, she’d prove that stacked resumes – AJGA/USGA titles – aren’t a requirement for teenage tour hopefuls.

Of course, membership is only the first step. Last December, Shasta Averyhardt became the fourth black golfer to earn LPGA status. She played in seven LPGA events and missed the cut in each. Averyhardt never shot lower than 74. The results indicate she wasn’t ready.

It’s difficult to say how Howard would handle tour life, given her limited LPGA exposure. She says she’s ready for the spotlight. As a junior, Howard looked up to Tiger Woods’ niece, Cheyenne Woods, a senior at Wake Forest. Now Howard will try to blaze her own trail.

“We need some young players on tour, you know?” Howard said, eyes beaming. “You know, just teenagers dominating the tour. That’d be nice.”

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