'The little kid strikes again,' laughed the pint-sized Gleason of Clearwater, Fla., who carded a 6-under-par 66 to force a playoff at 207 (-9) against Dana Lacey of North Beach , W. Australia , who carded a 2-under-par 70 in the final round.
Lacey appeared poised to earn her first professional win, playing strong down the stretch with birdies on holes 14 and 15. But then along came Gleason, who birdied five straight holes on the back nine. Gleason's putter was so hot, she coaxed in eight one-putts and carded one two-putt green for a total of 10 putts on her back nine. When she drained a 5-foot birdie on the 18th hole to tie Lacey for the lead, the second-year pro promptly went to the practice green and waited for Lacey to finish.
But playing three groups behind Gleason, the Aussie, also in her second Futures Tour season, was unable to convert her 20-footer for birdie. Her putt fell a foot short and a stroke shy of finishing off the tournament in regulation. Returning to the 18th tee to start the playoff, both found the fairway easily. Lacey's approach landed on the front of the green, leaving a 35-foot uphill tester. Gleason hit her approach to 12 feet below the hole on nearly the same line she'd had in regulation. The Floridian ended it there when her birdie putt found the heart of the cup. Lacey took par and settled for runner-up honors.
And while Gleason's win was worth a $9,800 payday, both players walked away with more than just a jingle in their pocket. Lacey fought back tears of satisfaction in spite of coming up short in the playoff.
'I'm ecstatic at the moment because this has been a long time coming,' said Lacey, 22, one of Australia's top amateurs two years ago before turning pro. 'This feels like a turning point for me.'
The turning point was about more than just making it to a playoff. Lacey got her feelings hurt during the previous week's tournament when her mother, visiting from Australia, told the pro that her 'attitude stunk' on the golf course. Lacey missed the 36-hole cut at that event in Lima, Ohio. The words stung the pro for several days. But the more she thought about it, the more she was forced to look at herself and see how her negative approach fed her poor performance on the course. She could see how her final rounds were her worst rounds. And she could see the parallel between her attitude and missing tournament cuts.
So Lacey tried a new approach this week. She listened to the rock band, Coldplay, on her earphones while she practiced and tried to put a smile on her face while she played. She e-mailed happy golf stories to her boyfriend in West Virginia. The result was that she turned around her attitude and turned in her career-best Futures Tour performance.
'She's been freaking headless about her final-round finishes, so today is really important,' said Melanie Holmes-Smith of Melbourne, Australia, Lacey's travel partner on the Futures Tour. 'Dana was unbeatable on the amateur ranks. She won just about everything she could win, so when she turned pro, she was ready for it to happen on this level. Of course, this is a game of patience.'
It also was a game of patience for Gleason, 24, who described her front nine on the 6,456-yard Hickory Point Golf Course as 'nothing special' with only one bogey and one birdie. Her back nine, however, was the epitome of why Gleason -- all 5-foot-4, 112 pounds of her -- has become so feared on Sunday afternoons.
'She can get up and down from the trash can,' said Futures Tour member Janell Howland of Boise, Idaho, who missed the cut and caddied for Gleason in the final round. 'Four of six birdies were inside four feet.'
'If you watch her play, it's nothing fancy, but when she starts making 20 and 30-footers four or five times a round, watch out,' said Kristy McPherson of Conway, S.C., who played in Gleason's final-round pairing and tied for eighth. 'Her putter is just ridiculously hot and she has confidence. That's what it takes -- the confidence to get the ball in the hole.'
And now that she has cracked the top-five on the Futures Tour's money list, moving to No. 4, Gleason admits that the agonizing decision she made last Monday to pull out of an LPGA Tour event was the best choice she could have made. A non-exempt member of the LPGA Tour, Gleason was second alternate at the Wegman's Rochester LPGA tournament last week in Rochester, N.Y., but she had to make a decision.
She had driven all the way up to Rochester from Ohio for the U.S. Women's Open qualifying tournament, but when she missed making the Open field, Gleason wrestled with the decision to withdraw her name from the LPGA event and hustle back down to Illinois. Gleason finally withdrew her name and drove 750 miles to Decatur in an attempt to improve her No. 8 ranking. How could she have known that she would win again and rocket to No. 4 on the money list?
'I really believe whatever happens, happens for a reason,' said Gleason, who played golf collegiately at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 'If I would have qualified for the Open, I would have stayed in Rochester for the LPGA tournament. If I had done that, this wouldn't have happened here this week.'
And Gleason wouldn't be poised to earn her full LPGA Tour status at the end of the year by finishing in the top five on the money list. Certainly, she'll have more decisions to make about her tournament schedules on the two tours in the coming weeks, but one thing is obvious about her performance today: when her putter is hot, there's no messing around.
Oh sure, Gleason might be the mischievous 'little kid' who keeps a rubber snake in her golf bag for practice range gags. And she's the player who sometimes rolls those trick wobbly balls onto the practice green to make her peers think they've been in the sun too long.
But make no mistake about that twinkle in her eye. It's just the sign of a winner who's enjoying the ride.