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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Ginger Howard shooting for stardom

By Donald Hunt

Ginger Howard is going to keep on knocking, even if it takes another year for her door to the LPGA Tour to open.

At the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament in December, Howard fell short by eight strokes in her bid to become the fifth black player to earn an LPGA Tour card, so the 18-year-old will be back on the Symetra Tour this season. The top-10 money winners on the Symetra Tour at year's end gain full exempt status to the LPGA Tour.

Howard plans to be one of them this year.

Last year, Howard competed in 16 events during her rookie season on the developmental tour, made 11 cuts and earned $16,863, good for 30th place.

"I'm playing a lot of golf," the 5-foot-6 Howard said. "It's been a good experience for me. I have a lot of confidence in my game."

Others share her optimism.

"I think the nature of this game is in ebbs and flows," said Howard's coach, Nathan Bertsch. "It's been a learning experience for her. She's finding out what works for her. I'm not surprised at how well she has done. She is one of the best putters I've ever seen.

"The real test for her will come in the next couple years. Everybody goes through a little bit of a lull. She's played some great golf. She handles things really well. She believes in herself."

Howard, who grew up in Philadelphia, started playing golf when she was 6. Her father, Robert Howard, a former tennis player at Temple University, would regularly take Ginger and her little sister Robbi to the driving range. Both sisters picked up the sport quickly. Robbi, now 17, is one of the top junior players in the country.

Robert and his wife, Gianna, moved Ginger, Robbi and their two sons, ArJay and Giulian, to Maryland for a short time before heading down to Bradenton, Fla., so Ginger could get help from instructors at the IMG Golf Academy.

In 2010, Ginger became the first black female player to compete in the Junior Ryder Cup.

In 2011, despite scholarship offers from Duke and Florida, she decided to turn pro.

"It was a big decision for me," Howard said. "I had thought about going to college and playing golf. But I felt I was ready for the move."

Success came quickly. She won five times on the SunCoast Ladies Series, a developmental pro circuit in Florida.

But the SunCoast Ladies Series is not the place to strike it rich.

The Howards have made huge sacrifices for their kids. Robert, who used to work in retail management, gave up his job to travel with Ginger and be her caddie. Gianna works full time as a nurse for IMG Academy, and she home-schooled her daughter so Ginger could earn her high school diploma.

"It's a grind for us," Robert said. "It's a lot of traveling. We have Ginger, myself and her coach traveling with us to play in tournaments. Robbi has traveled with us as well. & These tournaments cost money. We need sponsors and donations to help with the expenses."

Holiday Inn is sponsoring Howard, but despite her success, it's still a struggle for the family. There are coaching, traveling and tournament fees that have to be paid.

"I really appreciate all the support from different people." Robert said. "It means a lot to us. It's a tough situation because if she doesn't make the cut, there's no money. We're all committed to get where she needs to be. It's not easy, but we're all working together."

Ginger also is working on something else.

Like fellow bright, young, black American golfers Shasta Averyhardt and Cheyenne Woods, Howard wants to be a role model for kids who are interested in playing the game.

"It's a big challenge," Howard said. "I'm learning and doing as much as I can. I want to be an inspiration for a lot of young people. I want them to know that you can achieve your goals through hard work and dedication."

Consider at least one person already inspired.

"The hard work is paying off for Ginger," said Robbi, who is not too far behind her sister in her golf development. "I've gone to a lot of the tournaments. I see what she's doing. I'm really proud of her. Our whole family and coaches are excited about what she's been able to do."

In 2012, Ginger led the Symetra Tour in putting average. Her best finish was a tie for second in April at the Riviera Nayarit Classic, where she earned $10,038. It was one of two paychecks Howard earned that was in the thousands instead of the hundreds.

"I really," she said, "want to make the Tour next year."