VENICE, Fla., Sept. 30, 2011 – Florida teen Ginger Howard made it look easy this week, cruising past a field of 234 players to win Stage II of the LPGA Qualifying Tournament at Plantation Golf and Country Club.
Howard, 17, of Bradenton, Fla., carded a 7-under 65 in today’s final round on the Bobcat course and even punctuated the week with birdies on her last two holes from 12 feet and 15 feet. She finished the week at 16-under 272 to edge amateur Julia Boland (66) of Tamworth, Australia, at 15-under 273.
“It feels great,” said Howard, who carded seven birdies in today’s bogey-free round. “My putting was on and I stuck a lot of shots today.”
Howard and Boland played in the final group together and had their own little head-to-head match in today’s final round. Both players made the nine-hole turn at four under and were steaming ahead of the field.
Boland, who played collegiately at Texas A&M University and recently served as a volunteer assistant women’s golf coach for the team while she worked on her master’s degree in exercise physiology, began to sputter a bit on the back. She bogeyed the 10th hole, saved par from a bunker on No. 11, birdied No. 13 and then drained an eagle-3 on the par-five 16th hole when she striped a 3-wood 222 yards to 10 feet and converted the putt.
But Howard kept her foot on the gas and tacked on three more birdies on the 14th, and then the culminating birdies on the 17th and 18th holes en route to medalist honors.
“She’s as cool as a cucumber and those birdies on the last two holes were impressive,” said Boland, 25, who recorded seven birdies one eagle and three bogeys in today’s final round. “I was slightly embarrassed when she said she was 17.”
Today’s win was Howard’s biggest victory against the strongest field. She won five of seven tournaments this summer on the Orlando-based Sun Coast Series mini-tour, but Howard admitted that stepping up against a field of top college and experienced professionals this week was a “confidence booster” heading into the LPGA’s Final Qualifying Tournament in early December.
“I worked really hard to get to this place and I’m excited to play in the final stage,” said Howard, a home-schooled high school senior who plays out of the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
Stephanie Na (72) of Adelaide, Australia finished third at 8-under 280. Tied for fourth at 7-under 281 was amateur Nicole Vandermade (66) of Brantford, Canada, Jacqui Concolino (68) of Orlando, Fla., Lizette Salas (71) of Azusa, Calif., and Thidapa (“Jasmine”) Suwannapura (74) of Bangkok, Thailand.
Five players tied for eighth at 5-under 283.
Thirty-two players finished under par and 37 players finished at even-par 288 or better after four rounds in the LPGA’s second stage of qualifying.
This week’s tournament was the second of the three-part annual qualifying tournament held to determine 2012 membership on both the LPGA and LPGA Futures Tour. This year marks the first time the two tours will run joint Q-schools and the first time all of the qualifying events will be staged in the state of Florida.
Plantation Golf and Country Club has hosted a stage of LPGA Qualifying for the last 23 years. After 72 holes, the top 70 and ties from Stage II will advance into the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament (Stage III). All other players will receive 2012 LPGA Futures Tour status.
The LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament (Stage III) will be contested over 90 holes and will be held Nov. 30 through Dec. 4, on both the Champions and Legends courses at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla. Top finishers in the final stage will earn 2012 LPGA membership (total number of cards TBD) and all others who make the cut will receive membership on the LPGA Futures Tour.Carmel's Aimee Neff finished with 71-72-73-71 = 287 (-1) to tie for 25th place and Fishers' Brittany Kelly fired 72-74-74-72 = 292 (+4), good enough for T55th and to advance to Stage III.
Weather: Sunny with temperatures in the high-80s with wind between 5-10 mph and moving to 15 mph in the afternoon.
For scores and more information, visit LPGA.com.