Gleadall starts fast at tricky Red Sky

Natalie Gleadall opened the Golfweek Conference Challenge with a 3-under 69.

WOLCOTT, Colo. – With a shock of curly brown hair tucked under her Ole Miss baseball cap and a deceptively southern-sounding accent, Natalie Gleadall is hard to miss. She had opponents and staff members alike holding their breath Monday afternoon at Red Sky Golf Club as Golfstat showed Gleadall bringing the Fazio Course to its knees during Round 1 of the Golfweek Conference Challenge.

Starting on the back nine, Gleadall turned in 4-under 32, and was 5 under through 16 holes. With thoughts of a 66 creeping into her mind, Gleadall pulled a wedge long and left at the par-4 eighth and couldn’t get up and down. She overshot the par-3 ninth and missed a 5-footer for par, finishing at 3-under 69. Her lowest competitive round is a 67 she shot a year ago in the final round of the Cougar Classic, where she won her first collegiate title.

“I normally just count my birdies so I knew I made four,” said Gleadall, a senior. “On the front nine, it was our back nine, the wind kind of picked up so it was hard to hold the greens.”

Ole Miss doesn’t frequently travel west, so while the altitude helped Gleadall off the tee, it didn’t do her legs any favors.

“With the elevation too, walking this course I was kind of tired at the end. It’s definitely something different from where I’m from,” said Gleadall, who hails from Ontario. “It’s pretty flat, and then Mississippi is pretty flat too.”

Gleadall, the top returner for Ole Miss this season, averages 270 off the tee back home in the flatlands of Oxford, Miss. She chewed up the 6,236-yard layout in Round 1, consistently moving the ball 290 yards with her driver. She hit 12 fairways, and with a wedge in her hand for most of the day, also hit 15 greens.

“Just hit your driver well and you have wedge in your hand almost every hole,” she reasoned. If only it were that simple.

The field average at Red Sky for last year’s Conference Challenge was 77.6. Fast, large greens have held the lowest score to 69 in the two-year history of the tournament being hosted at Red Sky. Oklahoma State's Caroline Hedwall shot a tournament-record 67 at Primm Valley Golf Club in Primm, Nev., at the inaugural event in 2009 before going on to win the NCAA Championship that spring.

Gleadall’s round left her in a three-way tie for the lead with Coastal Carolina’s Kaitlin Higginbotham and Pepperdine’s Grace Na, who carded five bogeys and an eagle despite forgetting her yardage book in her hotel room Monday morning.

Gleadall isn’t the average warm-weather-only SEC player. She spent a year and a half playing college golf at Nebraska, but as her game improved, decided it was time to seek out SEC-caliber competition. After playing through the 40 mph winds frequently found in the plains, Gleadall is ready for any kind of weather that might float over the Rockies.

And as for that southern accent?

“It’s easy to pick up,” Gleadall laughs. “The girls on my team are really southern. Everyone says that.”

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