Mell: Howard, 17, in the mix at LPGA Q-School


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ginger Howard is aiming to defy the odds.

At 17, she took another step Wednesday in a bid to make a giant leap to the LPGA ranks.

Howard opened the final stage of LPGA Qualifying School Wednesday with a 2-under-par 70 on LPGA International’s Champions Course, good for a tie for fifth place in the 90-hole event. She needs to finish among the top 40 and ties to earn tour membership.

Howard is defying the odds with more than her youth.

If Howard makes it through this week, she’ll become just the fifth African-American to earn LPGA tour membership.

“It would mean a lot to me, but it would mean a lot to be an African-American on tour who’s in contention every week,” Howard said.

Howard wants to be remembered as the first African-American to win an LPGA event.

“She wants to be the best, regardless of her race,” said Gianna Howard, Ginger’s mother.

It’s a giant ambition given Howard doesn’t have the typical resume you would expect from a young player making such a bold run in her first attempt at Q-School. Howard didn’t win a U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship as Lexi Thompson did. She didn’t win a U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship the way Michelle Wie did. She’s never even won an American Junior Golf Association event. She’s never qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. She’s never played in an LPGA event before.

While Howard’s won dozens of trophies over her junior career, she has never won anything larger than she did winning the second stage of LPGA Q-School in September.

With her promising start Wednesday at LPGA International, Howard continues a stunning ascent in the professional women’s golf scene.

“She feels very confident,” Gianna said. “She has no doubts. She believes this is what she’s meant to be doing.”

A product of the IMG Leadbetter Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Howard turned pro this summer. She won five Sun Coast Series women’s mini-tour events. Though LPGA rules require members to be 18, Howard has secured a waiver from the commissioner that would allow her to compete as a 17-year-old at next year’s start. She will turn 18 on March 15.

“I turned professional because I just felt ready, felt confident and didn’t have any doubts, and I just went with that,” Howard said.

This is very much a family venture.

Gianna, who is rebounding strongly after undergoing thyroid cancer surgery two months ago, is on leave from her job as a nurse. Robert, Ginger’s father, took leave of his job in retail management to care for his wife. Robbi, Ginger’s 16-year-old sister, is also an accomplished junior golfer. She was on Ginger’s bag as caddie Wednesday with Gianna following them both in the gallery and Robert back in Bradenton taking care of the couple’s two young sons.

More than one publication has speculated on Ginger and Robbi becoming golf’s version of the Venus and Serena Williams.

That’s a long ways away for the Howard sisters, but Ginger’s determined to take the first step this week.