Lizette Salas won her first LPGA tournament after two and a half years on Tour. Her prize, the Kingsmill Championship at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia. But it meant so much to her and she worked so hard for it, she would probably say that she finally won her first tournament. That much was the undercurrent of the first words out of her mouth in the media center:
“Oh, my God, it is a dream come true. I’ve been working so hard for this. I’ve had so much support over the years throughout my career, and to finally break through my third season out on tour, I’m just so happy.”
“You know, coming down 18 I asked my caddie, I said, ‘Am I going to win this thing? He was like, ‘Yeah, you are.'”
“So I just enjoyed that walk up 18. It was a big relief.”
To pull it off, she adopted a whole new approach to the game. It came, as change generally does, after a significant failure. In this instance, a missed cut in Dallas. Failure is relative, of course; she’s only missed five cuts in fifty-two professional starts. This “significance” exacerbated, no doubt, by missing the cut in her “home game” a few weeks earlier, the Kraft Nabisco.
But this change was so revolutionary, so counterintuitive to what every hard-charging athlete has been conditioned to, she wasn’t quite sure if she was going to permanently adopt it:
“I don’t know. We’ll see how it feels. I mean, it worked this week, so we’ll see in the future. Just last week when I missed the cut, or two weeks ago when I missed the cut in Dallas, I just felt like I needed a whole different approach.”
“I felt like I wanted to be perfect all the time. I felt like I needed to play like a top‑tier golfer every week. That’s not it. It’s about feeling confident. Golf is a sport where you can’t control everything. I felt like I needed to control that.”
“I just took a step back and looked at golf differently. I just tried to have fun this week. That was the most important thing.”
All of this theory is good, but it becomes real when somebody like Yani Tseng is chasing you. How strong are your new-found convictions then?
“Towards the back I saw that Yani was going for a good run. I just tried not force it, not to be so aggressive. I was hitting good putts but they just weren’t rolling in.”
“Those are the times where you can get too frustrated or too caught up in, ‘Oh, that should have gone in, this should have gone in.’ There is a point where you just have to move on from that.”
“I looked at my caddie and said, “Am I being too picky right now?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you need to slow down.'”
“So we just made it simple: hit the fairway, hit the green, and if it rolls in, it rolls in. If not, you can’t control that. Just stuck to my routine and stayed patient.”
But she’s been in contention before. How was this round different than any of those instances?
“Yeah. I think I was in contention once as a rookie. Looking back, I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself.”
“Last season I was in contention at the Kraft Nabisco. I had a lot of the fans out there. I just think I needed more experience through those times. I shot 62 to be in the playoff with Suzann, and unfortunately didn’t have that win there.”
“I think this year at the Kia Classic when I was in contention and I wasn’t playing — I mean, I wasn’t playing amazing golf, but I really had to grind it out all 18 holes.”
“So I think that experience at the Kia Classic really helped me mentally on really grinding it out all 18 holes and really finishing strong [when she wasn’t playing particularly well].”
“I think I made two birdies out of ‑‑ two of the last four holes for birdie and finished second. So I think that really helped me stay strong for this week.”
And so for the long run, she’s going to dial her ardor down a bit and shift her focus from results to the reality that it is a process, a process that requires patience and a level head.
“At the same time, I have to think of it as a process and not focus on results so much. I think it’s just back to the basics after this. Try to study another golf course and really try to figure out what this golf course does to your game and how your game benefits on that golf course.”
“Every week is different, but your mentality has to stay strong throughout the whole year. Having 30‑plus events this year, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You have to be ‑‑ I have to be very patient and not get too caught up in trying to win the tournament on Thursday rather than Sunday.”
From there, you don’t get all that upset by good putts that miss. You don’t get all that upset by a bad round or tournament. You are still committed to excellence, but Lizette discovered that excellence doesn’t always come in the ways we used to think.