Lizette Salas: Almost There

The headline should have been that Suzann Pettersen won the LPGA LOTTE Championship at the Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, Hawaii, just outside Honolulu.

She did it by shooting a very steady 5-under, 67 and that included hitting her tee shot OB on the par-5 13th. Even so, she managed to save a bogey making birdie on the second ball. So she was hot:

Well, before I teed it off I said to Brian [her caddie], let’s get to 20 [under].  I thought 20 was going to do it.  That would take a fantastic round from anyone behind me, and it would take some good golf from me, but that was kind of the number I was shooting for. 

Had she done that, there wouldn’t have been as much drama in her win. She missed the green on 18, hit a nice but strong, curling pitch shot that ended up rolling by the hole twelve feet or so and missed the par putt to fall to 19-under.

Meanwhile, Lizette Salas, playing ahead of her, was in the process of posting that “fantastic round” Suzann thought was an outside possibility. She shot a sizzling 62 and just missed a birdie putt on 18 to post 20 herself. Her round was so improbable, Suzann wasn’t even paying attention to her:

I didn’t really — like I said, she was right ahead of me but I didn’t really pay attention.  I had more than enough to try and keep track of my own game, my own shots.  I birdied 15, and then I think I was aware that she was like 18‑under.  So I mean, [early on] she wasn’t going anywhere, and I’m like, oh, my God, where did she start this day because I didn’t remember seeing her next to my name on the list yesterday.  She’s a tough cookie.  She’s been playing fantastic.  She’s just got to keep putting herself in this position, and she’ll get her win.

The reason Suzann was caught unaware was that Salas started five shots back of her and was only 1-under through the 7th. But she made a “silly bogey” on the par-5 5th and that fired her up. It took her until the 8th hole to ignite, but it was pretty much meteoric when she did: birdie, birdie, eagle-2, par, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, all in a stretch of just eight holes. The only hole she didn’t birdie was 11; she made par there. And just hit the lip with her birdie putt on 18 which, it turned out, would have won it with Suzann’s bogey on 18.

It was a stunning round out of nowhere, so even though she was unable to prevail in the one-hole playoff, she has to go on the Popup Players list of unexpected players posting extraordinary rounds. She becomes only the sixth player and the first woman on the list.

To be sure, this was not totally unexpected, it was just unexpected today given that she started five back and seemed to be just treading water early in her round. She is a very fine player with an exceptional college record at USC. I have been writing about her since the CME Group Titleholders last November in “Lizette Salas: Humble But Tough,” and just a couple of weeks ago in “Lizette Salas: The Shroud,” detailing her first opportunity to play in the last group in a major. It was a disaster — she shot 79 — and, from the point of view of a former Monday qualifier on the Champions Tour, the post discusses how such things happen.

But today, Salas felt somewhat vindicated when a writer was less than complimentary about that outing:

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.

And she definitely thinks of herself as a fighter:

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!”

I can’t imagine that anyone who had seen her swing, anyone who had seen her play in person or anyone who knew her personal history would think that she didn’t have the wherewithal to win on the LPGA Tour, that she didn’t have a knockout punch. She won a nine-way playoff at Q-School to win her Tour card.

She is in the prime of her learning curve on the LPGA and she is veritably bounding up that curve. Bouncing back from a 79 in the final round at Kraft with a 62 in the final round at LOTTE is a pretty good indicator.

She lost the playoff with Suzann because sitting in the catbird seat, she chunked her approach shot into the fronting pond on 18.

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.

She’ll process that the same way she processed the 79…and it won’t be long now. And another reason it won’t be long is because Nancy Lopez has taken an interest in her and become a mentor:

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.

As I said, she’s in the prime of her learning curve…and it won’t be long now.

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One Response to Lizette Salas: Almost There

  1. Dave Andrews says:

    I think if she had been able to hit her approach shot before Pettersen (they were only about a yard apart on their tee shots) she might have placed it on the green. The pressure may have gotten to her to match Pettersen’s approach. She will learn a lot from that and she should be a contender and a winner for a long time to come on the LPGA. I imagine she will make the Solheim Cup. That’s great because she is a fighter and will do well in match play.