Gleason begins Symetra season at Sara Bay

Jenny Gleason, of Clearwater, Fla., watches her drive during a practice round for the U.S. Women's Open Golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club.

Jenny Gleason, of Clearwater, Fla., watches her drive during a practice round for the U.S. Women's Open Golf tournament at Oakmont Country Club.

SARASOTA, Fla. – Most people don’t know what it’s like to follow a dream. That’s what Angela Stanford says in defense of good friend Jenny Gleason, who begins her ninth season on the LPGA’s developmental circuit this week at the Sara Bay Classic. Big dreams take a special kind of perseverance.

No one wants to be known as a “veteran” of the Symetra Tour (which most people still mistakenly refer to as the Futures Tour). Gleason has been a student in professional golf’s version of grad school longer than she ever intended. But Stanford is a firm believer in timing, and she insists a full tour card is well within Gleason’s grasp. She’s close.

“Kristy McPherson said if I had Jenny’s short game I’d be the No. 1 player in the world,” Stanford said.

There might not be a better track for Gleason to make her mark than Sara Bay, an old Donald Ross gem that demands an imaginative wedge game and confident putter. Gleason, 31, has conditional status on the LPGA for the sixth time in her career and plans to bounce back and forth between tours. She hopes for a strong boost in the next reshuffle.

Gleason is a self-described golf nerd. She lives and breathes the game, and no matter how much she’d rather be in Hawaii this week than Sarasota, she’s grateful for the chance to take another step toward her dream.

“When I first came out here you could make a cut and get a check for $23,” said Gleason, who supplements her earnings with pro-am outings. Gleason estimates she plays in 15 outings a year and earns $20,000. A full year on the Symetra Tour costs roughly $30,000. Her career earnings on the developmental tour: $138,997.

Gleason’s best season as a pro came in 2005 when she won twice on the Futures Tour, earning $34,138. She finished sixth on the money list, however, and missed her LPGA card by one spot.

She then went to the final stage of LPGA Q-School that December and missed her card by one stroke. McPherson told Gleason she still hasn’t gotten over that year of near-misses.

Stanford knows as well as anyone that golf’s close calls can zap a spirit. She endured a long stretch between her first and second wins on the LPGA and is now among the most talented players on tour who hasn’t won a major.

“Golf is such a hard game to get over,” Stanford said.

For the last six years Stanford has held a charity glow-ball tournament in Fort Worth, Texas, called Let Your Light Shine. Stanford established her foundation and decided to change the mission last year to focus on raising money for college scholarships. She wanted Gleason to serve as her executive director, but worried the offer of a part-time job might lead Gleason to believe Stanford didn’t think she could make it on tour. Actually, the opposite was true. Stanford hoped the distraction would relieve some of the pressure. She was right.

“You know what?” Gleason asked, rhetorically. “We don’t have problems.”

The revelation came last week after Gleason helped Stanford read essays from scholarship applicants who have either been diagnosed with cancer themselves or have watched a family member struggle with the disease. Stanford’s mother battled breast cancer in recent years, so the cause is especially near to her heart.

Gleason said Stanford read one line of the first essay and pushed them aside, saying “I can’t do this.”

The first applicant was a young lady who had lost her mom to breast cancer and went to Boswell High School, where Stanford played basketball and golf.

Gleason encouraged her to press on, and they read about a high school senior who is captain of her girls golf team and runs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf chapter of Dallas. She’s now battling lymphoma.

“We haven’t even met these kids, but they hit a soft spot,” Gleason said.

Stanford struggled with pangs of guilt that her mother survived while others weren’t as fortunate.

The distraction offers great perspective for both players as they work hard toward their respective goals.

“It opens your eyes,” Gleason said.

The path to her dream is now more in focus.

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