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Valrico LPGA golfer started game late in life but drives past life's limits

BRANDON

Sporting a pink polo, dangling earrings and golf shoes, Alice Brown braves the morning rain to hit balls at the driving range. At 49, she is a member of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She is also a hairstylist, wife, grandmother and golf teacher. All things are possible, she says. It doesn't matter how old you are, or who says no. You just have to go for it. "I have no limits because I don't put limits on myself," she says, a golf bag and bucket of balls at her side.

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Brown's preparing for the LPGA Developmental Tour qualifiers, a tournament she breezed through in 2008 to make it on the association's 2009 Developmental Tour. To get ready, she spends at least four hours a day practicing her game. Sometimes, she's at Ace Golf on Kings Avenue, where she also teaches lessons. Other days, when she has a lot of appointments at the Brandon salon where she works, she hits balls down the aisle next to her stylist chair.

She knows some golf professionals see her age and the fact that she's a black woman as a disadvantage. While golfers such as Renee Powell have made the game more accessible for women like Brown, blacks remain a minority at the top of the game. Brown says it is sometimes hard to find sponsors. The opposition just makes her work harder.

She teaches her students to do the same.

"It's encouraging to watch her persevere despite the hurdles she has to get over," said Tampa's director of solid waste Tonja Brickhouse, a New Tampa resident who also is Brown's student.

Brown says her competitive spirit keeps her going. Growing up in South Hill, Va., she played high school softball. She was a shortstop of the year, a home run champion. Then, at age 16, she gave birth to a daughter who became her world. Later she met and married an Army soldier, Gary Brown, and decided to go to cosmetology school.

She worked as a licensed master stylist out of salons near where her husband was stationed in Illinois, Georgia, Hawaii and New York. She played on women's softball teams, recruiting players as hair clients.

When her husband asked her to learn to golf with him, she told him softball was her game. But after some convincing, she tagged along.

She started out with a swing and a miss.

"I thought, why is it I can hit a ball that's moving but I take a swing and I miss a ball that's sitting still? I liked the challenge," Brown said.

Brown began taking golf lessons in 1997. She practiced several hours a week, then almost daily. It was a bonding experience for her and her husband, who retired from the military and moved the couple to Brandon in 2003. The two fell in love with the sport together, but she took it to another level when she entered an amateur tournament in Tampa in 2004.

Brown quickly mastered the greens at local tournaments, winning a championship title at MacDill Air Force Base. Then, in 2008, she entered the LPGA qualifier and registered as a professional.

This year's qualifier is in November. She says she is ready. It is a step on the way to the major tour. She golfs with a pink ball marked by a purple heart. The pink represents the friends and clients she has lost to breast cancer. The purple heart is to honor military friends wounded in battle.

Her fight to win a game is an easy one compared to those struggles, she says. She wants to win, but the journey is what's most important to her.

"I'm just going to keep going," she says, pulling her golf bag through the rain.

Sarah Whitman can be reached at (813) 661-2439 or swhitman@sptimes.com.

Valrico LPGA golfer started game late in life but drives past life's limits 08/18/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2011 5:31am]

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