Ralph Howe III always has been good at covering distances. He was a big hitter from West Sayville who won the U.S. Public Links, played in the Masters and won two Hooters Tour events. Even by his standards, though, this is a real long shot.
He and his family have moved to China, where he is teaching golf six days a week at a driving range in Beijing.
"We decided we were up for the adventure," he said on the phone the other night.
For the past few years, Howe had been associate pastor of Discovery Church in Orlando, Fla., where his congregation once included 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. As a former pro who played on several circuits including the Asian Tour, Howe kept getting offers from people asking him to teach golf in China, where income levels are rising and golf is said to be booming.
He and his wife Melinda did have some interest in the country. As they were raising their son and daughter, they adopted two girls from China and talked about bringing them to visit their native country. When Howe was offered a job by teaching pro Dan Anselmo - son of Tiger Woods' youth instructor John Anselmo - he took it seriously. Their "visit" will last a good while.
"This is an awful big a move to make for just a year or two," he said. "We're having a great time. We live in a Western area, in a nice neighborhood where we've gotten to meet families with kids. We'll take a few days off and do fun things like go to the Great Wall, which we did recently . . . The hardest thing is that we don't have a car yet and taxis take only four people," Howe said.
Sixty percent of his lessons are with local people, through an interpreter. "That's challenging, but it's actually good for teaching. You learn to keep your instruction brief," he said, adding that another 30 percent of his clientele are Chinese people who speak English and the other 10 percent are Westerners.
"I love being back in golf. I've always loved golf, it has always been part of what I've done. It was just way, way less of a part in the past 10 years," said the man who grew up playing at Middle Island Country Club and other Long Island public courses and became an All-America at Florida Southern.
Tony Gamboli, his coach at Sayville High School and still a close friend, remembers once running a summer camp at LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale for children between 9 and 12. "All of a sudden I've got this little blonde-haired kid sneaking into the camp at 8 years old," Gamboli said, referring to Howe. "I set up a little golf tournament there for the kids and Ralph won it."
That his move to China grew out of being generous enough to adopt two children was no surprise to the coach whom Howe considers a family member. "One of the big things in all of our lives is wanting to give back. With Ralph, from a very early age, that was part of his makeup," Gamboli said. "He was always a selfless kid, with a humility about him that was just amazing."
Teaching golf to people who can't understand you might be as humbling as anything the lefty golfer ever has done. "I'm really not a great teacher. I'm a good teacher, but it takes years and years of teaching to learn how to be great," Howe said. He has decided to put himself in his pupils' shoes, assigning to himself the same lessons he is giving them, and learning to play golf righthanded.
It's just another part of the adventure. "I know," he said, "we are supposed to be here."