Howard, 17, wins 2nd stage of LPGA Q-School

Ginger Howard won the second stage of LPGA Q-School by one shot.

VENICE, Fla. – When word went out that Ginger Howard won the second stage of LPGA Q-School, Cheyenne Woods sent a celebratory Tweet. She quickly followed it up with an exasperated revelation: only four African-American women have earned LPGA membership since 1950. Howard, 17, would be the fifth.

“I think it's time for a change!” Woods, a senior at Wake Forest, tweeted.

While Woods opted for the more traditional route of a four-year degree, Howard turned professional this summer after the LPGA granted her permission to play Q-School as a 17-year-old. Howard turned pro on the spot and won her Sun Coast Series debut June 10, carding an 8-under 64 in the final round to win by nine strokes. To date, she has played in seven Sun Coast events and won five.

Today, Howard closed with a bogey-free 65 to edge Julia Boland by one stroke at the Bobcat Course. She closed with birdies on the last two holes to notch her biggest title yet against a generous field of 232.

“I didn’t have any doubts,” Howard said of her decision to skip college. She and younger sister Robbi visited both Duke and Florida. “I felt pretty committed to it.”

The Howard family is rooted in Philly but moved to Bradenton, Fla., seven years ago so the girls could practice year-round at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. Robert Howard managed a Target store while his wife, Gianna, is a nurse at IMG. Nine-year-old R.J. started at the academy last year. The whole family was on hand today in Venice, though dad mostly stayed out in the car watching movies with R.J. and three-year-old Giulian. Mom relayed updates.

Robert Howard played tennis at Temple and still wears his class ring. Education is important to the Howard family, and they’re dedicated to the idea of Ginger taking online classes. To them, turning pro seemed quite natural.

“The career she has chosen is a pretty lucrative one with her talent,” Gianna said. “I don’t feel that it was a bad choice. She’s got potential to make a lot of money to support herself and her family. As parents, we all want our kids to have better lifestyle, better opportunities than what we had.”

When Ginger first expressed an interest in skipping college earlier this year, Robert told Ginger she needed to “go to another gear.” 

“You really have to go deep under par in order to be in contention,” he said.

Ginger delivered, finishing the four-round second stage 16 under par. Still, there’s a long road ahead. Robert plans to caddie for his oldest child. She’s close to signing with IMG, and has her first sponsor, Sun Life Financial, on her hat. 

But there’s risk. And while Robert and Lexi Thompson’s father, Scott, swap texts about their teenaged professionals, the resumes are worlds apart.

Robbi said her sister’s game went to another level after the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup. And while that’s a quality event, she has never won on the AJGA, nor was she named a first-team All-American. Those Sun Coast events did wonders for Howard’s confidence, but the fields weren’t exactly stacked.

Up until Prattville two weeks ago, this stage, this spotlight, belonged to Lexi Thompson. Her victory at the Navistar LPGA Classic, however, paved for the way for Howard to shine. 

Never mind that the news cycle was dominated by the news of Thompson’s petition. Howard’s performance in Venice made at least one writer take notice. 

“I’d say she has the inner fire,” said Robbi, who already plans to follow her big sister’s path.

Woods might be onto something.

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