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.
Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.
Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.
Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.
So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.
How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:
1. Stay healthy
So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.
Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.
Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.
2. Figure out his driver
Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.
That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.
In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.
Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron.
Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”
That won’t be the case at Augusta.
3. Clean up his iron play
As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.
At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.
Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.
That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.
Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”
4. Get into contention somewhere
As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.
In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.
“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”
Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.
And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go.
“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”
Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.
Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA
Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.
The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.
According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.
Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.
The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.
Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.
Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.
“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.
Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.
Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”
With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.
Thomas was asked about that.
“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.
“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”
Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.
“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.
“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”
Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.
“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”
Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.
“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.
Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.
McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.
“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said. “That's what he said.”
The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.
The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.
“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”