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Salas Has Great Mentor in Nancy Lopez
You can't have a much better mentor than Nancy Lopez, and Lizette Salas is lucky to be a protégé of one of the best players in the history of golf.
Long since retired, Lopez electrified the world when, in her first full season on the LPGA Tour in 1978, won nine tournaments - including five in a row. That year she received the LPGA's Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards, and was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
Thus set sail a career that resulted in 48 career victories on the LPGA Tour, including three major titles. She was named to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1987, and departed from full-time competition in 2002 to raise a family.
Salas, like Lopez Hispanic-American, is still seeking her first LPGA title but is getting closer to that goal each week. After graduating from USC in 2011, she earned full LPGA status last season. In seven events in 2013, the native of Azusa, Calif., has made every cut and logged four top-10 finishes, earning $348,463 to rank fifth on the money list.
Her best effort to date came on Saturday in the LPGA Lotte Championship at Ko Olina Golf Club in Kopolei, Hawaii. Salas closed with a spectacular 10-under 62 in regulation to tie Suzann Pettersen at 19-under 269, but lost on the first playoff hole to the Norwegian when her approach found the water, leading to a double-bogey.
Two weeks ago Salas experienced similar disappointment in the last round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship when, playing in the final group with eventual winner Inbee Park, she skied to a 79 at Mission Hills Country Club.
But Salas continues to knock on the door and, in due time it seems, the 23-year-old will walk to her maiden victory. After signing her remarkable scorecard Saturday evening, Salas met with reporters and discussed her recent fine play and relationship with Lopez. Here's what she had to say.
Q. First off, just take me through that 62 out there today. I mean, what a hot start, two birdies in your first three holes and then that stretch of birdie birdie eagle.
LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, I just - I was trying to score on the par 5s. That was my main goal today. I had been struggling a little bit throughout this week. You know, just starting off strong was a goal of mine, and being five shots back I knew I had to get to a good start. After I made a silly bogey on a par 5, that just got me fired up, and I birdied 8 and 9 and eagled 10, which was probably the best swing of the week obviously. You know, just that kept the momentum going for 12, 13, 14, all those birdies I made.
I was just trying to see the putt go in. I wasn't trying to force it. That's the whole reason why I went to the short putter is because with the anchored one I felt like I was restricted. I couldn't see the ball go in. You know, just the putter felt so amazing today. And although I wasn't hitting it amazing, about a foot, two feet, I was making putts left and right. I played smart, and just really wanted to make the birdie on 18 because I knew I was tied for the lead, and Nancy has been teaching me how to look at a leaderboard and everything. So looked at it, and I knew I had to make it, and I put a solid stroke on it. It's not like I moved or I did anything mechanically, it just didn't go in.
You know, just 18 - or the playoff, I can't really say much just because the swing was so fast. The only good thing about that chunk is that I was coming in from the inside playing wise, not the outside, which I've been working on. Chunk is not bad, but if you have water it's really bad. But I still had a chance, and that putt didn't go in. Not everything is going to fall, but I played my butt off today.
Someone wrote that I lack a punch, and I had plenty of punches out there today and just - yeah, I'm disappointed or I'm sad just because I wanted to win for my dad, I wanted to win for me. I had a lot of people rooting for me. But I have to look at the bright side, and there's a lot of golf left to play this year, so we'll see.
Q. We talked about everything you learned from what happened at Kraft, and to be able to bounce back in the way that you did this week, to put together a final round like you did today, how many positives can you really take from this week, what you were able to showcase?
LIZETTE SALAS: Too many positives, from shooting a 79 at Kraft to shooting a 62 here in Hawai'i, like that just - I can't really describe the feeling, just I feel so proud of myself to put that 79 in the back of my mind and just to go out and play some golf. I took a big risk in using the short putter, but I felt extremely comfortable. I felt like me again. My mom is here, everyone has been pulling for me, and I just - baby steps. I've got to just keep working on the things I'm working on, and the good thing is I'm going home tonight to see my family tomorrow for a day, and I'm sure they're very proud of me.
Q. When you talk about personality wise, how much does this showcase the kind of fighter that you are, the kind of personality that you have when you look at - people said you lacked a punch and you showed them the punch, but when you talk about yourself is that what you look at yourself as as one of those fighters that keeps coming back?
LIZETTE SALAS: Yeah, definitely, just from growing up and having people telling me that I couldn't do it or in college that I wasn't going to be a successful college player, I've had so many bad things said about me - not bad but negative or they didn't believe in me, and that's fine. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But my family is very close to me and they believe in me and my coaches do, and so I just - and I want to win. I don't play here just to travel the world. I'm here to win championships and I'm here to change the world of golf. So if people have something bad to say, then they can say it to me. I'll gladly take criticism. But that's not going to stop me from achieving my goals. I'm here to fight, and that's why I went to USC, we fight on.
Q. I heard Nancy Lopez is a mentor of yours?
LIZETTE SALAS: She's a mentor of mine, yes.
Q. Can you expound on that a little bit, what she's meant for your game?
LIZETTE SALAS: We met about a year ago, and she's heard about me and she's heard about my background and we have similar backgrounds, similar relationships with our fathers, and she kind of just took me under her wing and would send me text messages. She came out to watch at the U.S. Open, and this year she came out to watch 18 holes at Phoenix, and so we just keep - she gave me a putting lesson, how to visualize better, and she's just really teaching me about what made her so great. She's teaching me how to look at the leaderboard.
She's teaching me how to bring out that fighter in me. Before I used to be scared to let it out because I wasn't sure how to manage it. But now with the experience that I'm getting and all the positive things that I've been doing, I'm very comfortable, and this won't be the last time I'll be in contention.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.