HARRIS - Ginger Howard has bright potential as a golfer, but does not consider herself a trailblazer on the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA.
The Bradenton, Fla. tour rookie, at 18, is the youngest player among the 142 entrants in the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass. She is also one of only two blacks in the field.
"I am just being me," said the pleasant home-schooled golfer who also attends the noted IMG Academy. "I love being a great role model to other kids who aspire to be golfers."
Ginger Howard of Bradenton, Fla. itches her cheek while waiting to putt on No. 18 Friday at Sweetgrass Golf Club in the Symetra Tour event. At 18, she is the youngest player in the 142-player field. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Howard played on the Sun Coast tour last year, then attended Q school but fell out after the third stage by one stroke to gain conditional status on the LPGA Tour. She won the second stage after tying for fourth in the opening stage.
"I just felt ready," she said of joining the Symetra Tour, which grooms players for the major tour. "I like this route. It is (hopefully) one year of experience. There is nothing wrong with that."
She shot 2-over-par 74 under gusty and hot conditions Friday.
Competing against older players has not been overwhelming. "It's cool, actually," she said. "In junior golf I player in the upper (age) division. I think of it being a privilege to be out here and competing with these women out here. They have all been pretty friendly."
She travels with her father, Robert. "It's fun," she said, smiling when asked about the daily father-daughter struggles.
Howard does not think about her role on the tour that much. "I try to make my next putt, my next shot," she said. "I'm not thinking about higher expectations (held by golf onlookers)."
Her father said "the key is how she looks at the daily grind, but the golf world thinks differently."
He said some fans have provided tough moments but they choose to ignore those infrequent incidents. "it will give her even more exposure as she moves up the ladder," he said.
Another youngster walking the course Friday was Callie Jensen of Gladstone, who will be a high school junior in fall. She was the caddy for Fiona Puyo of Epernay, France, the first time she has been in that role. She golfs at Gladstone High School and tied for fifth in the Upper Peninsula D-1 prep tourney this year with 91 at Marquette.
"It was fun being in the middle of it all," Jensen said. "It was a very good experience being up front."
She liked watching how Puyo and playing partners Lauren Doughtie and Dolores White handled various situations during their round. Doughtie hit 75, White 77 and Puyo 80, with a triple bogey on the island green No. 15.
"I watched how they stayed calm. Some of them laughed off bad shots," she said.
Jensen, who carried a bag similar to the one she carries in her high school matches, said the heat and wind were factors. "I was a little tired toward the end."
Puyo, who gave Jensen a hug after the round, said the experience was good for someone she had not met until this morning.
"She was great today and I expect her to be even better tomorrow," said Puyo. "I throw her the ball and she catches it and cleans it. She gave good pep talks. She was very supportive."
Puyo got the distances and read the greens herself but, when told her caddy is a strong player, indicated Jensen may get an expanded role for the second round.