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Gleason Notches First Futures Tour Victory

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Futures TourLIMA, Ohio -- If you've ever watched a spunky little terrier in action, you know how they can grab your sock and never let go. That image is what comes to mind in describing how Jenny Gleason closed out her first professional win today at the $70,000 Lima Memorial Hospital Futures Classic.
 
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.