MANATEE -- Turning pro at the youthful age of 17, Bradenton's Ginger Howard embarked on her golfing career.
Five years later, she's finally reaping the rewards from grinding at the game.
Howard broke through with conditional LPGA Tour status for the first time in her career when she tied for 43rd place in last December's final stage of LPGA Tour Qualifying School in Daytona Beach.
The improvement in her mental game, where she isn't solely focused on golf 24/7, helped elevate Howard into a top performance at the biggest tournament of her year.
Of course, she also logged more practice rounds at one of the two courses that usually haunts her game at the final qualifying stage.
IMG Academy golf instructor Nathan Bertsch, who has taught Howard for six years, said the Legends Course, which has since been re-named the Hills Course, isn't one that fit her eye. So Bertsch and Howard devised a strategy to combat that issue.
"Getting more practice rounds in leading up to Q-School," Bertsch said. "Playing a lot more rounds on that golf course and really just trying to get more comfortable with it. So that was one step."
Howard burst onto the scene in her rookie season by capturing five Suncoast Series Pro titles, logging a top-five finish at the second stage of Q-School and becoming medalist at Q-School's second stage.
But that year or subsequent seasons haven't produced a full-time LPGA Tour card. This year won't be any different as Howard said she'll try Monday qualifying and playing Symetra Tour events.
The goal, though, is to
make the most of any opportunity she may get during the early part of the LPGA Tour schedule to place herself higher on the priority list once the re-shuffle occurs at the end of June.
"This year I'm going to kind of not think about it so much, but I feel great with where my game is right now," Howard said.
Bertsch said Howard never had much adversity when she first started her professional career.
"She was just kind of like a snowball that was kind of rolling downhill," Bertsch said.
The low point hit Howard two years ago. She said the routine nature of going back to the same golf courses on the developmental Symetra Tour circuit, without seeing the results pay off with the inclusion on the LPGA Tour, made her a little sad.
"I've said this to Ginger many times, 'The measure of a golfer isn't whether they can win or not, it's whether they can go through those major slumps and then come back from them and win again,'" Bertsch said.
Howard said she decided to turn that low point into a positive. That meant getting stronger in her mental game.
"I felt like being on the range for X amount of hours was going to make me better, when it was really figuring out myself and understanding the person that I am," Howard said.
In addition to her mental game strengthening, Howard's younger sister, Robbi, has become her full-time caddy. Robbi, who excelled during her junior golf career, brings a players perspective to caddying for Ginger.
"She plays a bit different than me," Ginger Howard said. "She's more aggressive. ... So she'll think of those shots when I'm not comfortable with them at all, and then she'll say, 'Let's try it out,' in a practice round."
Adding that extra layer to her game has Howard ready to pounce in 2016. The LPGA Tour schedule begins this week, while the LPGA Symetra Tour gets underway next month in Beaumont, Calif.