Gleason Notches First Futures Tour Victory
And while the petite 5-foot-4 pro, weighing in at 112 pounds, sees herself more as a Golden Retriever rather than some sock-chasing little scrapper, it's safe to say that her debut victory garnered a little more respect from her bigger-hitting, stronger peers who were outplayed by the player they call 'the little kid.' Today, the little kid came up big, capping off a week in which she carded rounds of 69-67-68 for a 12-under-par finish of 204 at Lost Creek Country Club.
'I wouldn't tee it up at a tournament if I didn't feel I could win,' said Gleason of Clearwater, Fla., who launched her pro career a year ago with the financial support of members at East Lake Woodlands Golf & Country Club outside Tampa , where she works in the off-season. 'You can finally say, 'The little kid got the job done.''
A complete left-hander, who plays golf from the right side, even held off a complete right-hander, who plays golf from the left side today. Kelly Lagedrost of Brooksville, Fla., shattered the tournament record by two strokes when she went from even par-144 after 36 holes, to a 9-under-par performance of 63 in the final round with a bogey-free, nine-birdie showing to climb up the leaderboard on Sunday and finish tied for fourth at 207 (-9).
But it was defending champion Danielle Downey of Spencerport , N.Y. , who went nose-to-nose with the Florida scrapper all day. Playing in the same group, the two tied or swapped leads throughout the round. Their first lead change came on the fifth hole when Gleason bogeyed and Downey birdied. Downey moved ahead by one, but Gleason caught her on the 11th hole when she rolled in a 10-footer for birdie. The upstate New Yorker answered with her own birdie from 5 feet on the 13th hole to go up by one. But Downey bogeyed the 14th and 15th holes on missed approach shots, allowing Gleason to draw even once again at the 15th.
'That stretch of holes, from 14, 15 and 16, are the Amen Corner of Lost Creek,' said Gleason, who played collegiately at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro . 'We were back and forth all day, but I just felt like something was going to happen there and I knew I'd better buckle down. Danielle is really tough all day.'
But the tight fairways and the tiny greens of the 5,973-yard course were even tougher. Gleason leaned on her strengths -- her putting and accuracy off the tee -- and Downey tried to make the same magic work for her that had won this event a year ago. But the shots she needed down the toughest stretch of holes fell just short. On the par-three, 17th tee, she second-guessed her club selection and wound up short in the left bunker. When the former Auburn University All-American didn't get up and down for par from 12 feet, her tenacious little opponent seized another opportunity when she drained an 18-foot, downhill breaking speed putt right in the heart for birdie. That two-shot swing put Gleason on top by two with only the par-five 18th hole to play.
Climbing the stairs to the elevated tee box on 18, Gleason told herself only one thing: You have to drive it in the fairway. She did, but Downey 's tee shot sailed right, setting up a difficult, low-flying shot with her 3-wood. On her third shot, Downey gave her 7-wood a rip and found the back fringe of the 18th green, but the best she could manage was par when she chipped from 20 feet and one-putted from three feet. Gleason's approach shot from 85 yards set up her final two-putt par from 12 feet for the win.
'I'm happy for Jenny and she definitely beat me,' said a disappointed Downey . 'If you'd told me that I'd shoot 10 under this week, I'd be thrilled, but it's a little bittersweet to let a couple of shots go and lose the tournament. It's going to be a tough ride home.'
While Downey and Gleason were duking it out in their own last-group pairing and Lagedrost was hanging around the clubhouse for more than three hours to see how her round would hold up, another player, Sarah Lynn Johnston, made her own run at the lead. Holing out for eagle from 104 yards from the ninth fairway, Johnston drew within three shots of the lead. But her only back-nine birdie came on the last hole when she drained an 8-footer for a final-round score of 3-under-par 69 and a share of second with Downey at 10-under 206.
'I hit it inside 15 feet more than three times on the back nine and didn't make any of them, but I told myself to stay patient,' said Johnston , of St. Charles , Ill. 'I gave myself every opportunity to win, but it wasn't my time.'
It was time for Gleason, who was loose and relaxed all day. When she made the nine-hole turn and walked past fellow Futures Tour pro Meaghan Francella, the former Tar Heel quipped, 'Happy Easter!' as Gleason walked by, referring to Gleason's springy apparel colors of pink and green. Gleason took one look at Francella's orange shirt and quickly traded quips, 'And Happy Halloween to you!' Both players laughed and Gleason rolled on.
That comfort started early in the week when Gleason stayed in the home of fellow Futures Tour player Amy Langhals, who lives in nearby Kalida , Ohio . Gleason rode to the course with Langhals each day, practiced at her host pal's home course and enjoyed the comforts of small-town America .
But her biggest comfort must have come from the fact that she knew Lost Creek's demandingly tight layout perfectly suited her game. By the time Gleason walked off the course as a winner, she had rolled in 28 putts, hit 14 greens and found 12 of 14 fairways.
'We put together a game plan back when she was in college to be solid within 100 yards, to make every 4-foot putt and to consistently two-putt from 40-50 feet,' said her swing coach, Kelley Phillips, a teaching professional at Sedgefield County Club in Greensboro, N.C. 'She knew she wouldn't be the longest hitter on tour and that her strength needed to be consistency. Jenny's extremely competitive, so I'm not one bit surprised that she won.'
Nor should anyone else. Gleason's win bumped her from 29th on the Futures Tour's season money list to No. 8, and likely will give the non-exempt LPGA Tour member a few things to think about over the Futures Tour's next 10 tournaments. Should she jump into the top five, she'll end the season with her full LPGA Tour status for 2006, which could alter her back-and-forth tournament schedule between the two tours. As an alternate on the LPGA Tour next week in Rochester , N.Y. , Gleason might be wondering if her wait for a spot in LPGA events is worth her chance of winning again on the Futures Tour and earning her full LPGA status without the grind of Q-School.
'The experience that you gain out here makes you want to get better and go to the next level,' she said. 'But I've only played golf for nine years and I'm still learning this game.'
Even so, Gleason proved today that if she latches on to your sock, she just might not let go until she gets what she really wants.
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.
Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return
Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.
“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”
Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.
According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.
Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.
Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.
“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”
Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.
Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018
He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.
Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:
3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth
5/2: Rory McIlroy
7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
9/2: Justin Rose
5/1: Brooks Koepka
15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey
10/1: Adam Scott
12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed
15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson
20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer
25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman
30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes