JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – Lizette Salas was in her place Thursday, and not just because she kept the bogeys off her card at the tough Atlanta Athletic Club and posted a score of 5 under 67 for a one-stroke lead in the KPMG PGA Women’s Championship.
His game is taking shape as the Solheim Cup approaches. It is also a big problem for her.
But the big smile went way beyond golf.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on the 31-year-old Californian, dampening her usual spark and creating anxiety that she initially took to nerves.
“I really didn’t love myself in 2020, and I think with all the COVID [pandemic] and not being able to work and have golf as an outlet, that really hit hard, ”said Salas.
She had never spoken about it publicly until Thursday, convinced that the worst was behind her. She never mentioned it to her parents, coaches or support team. Mexican-American with a tough road to the LPGA Tour, she attributes her stubbornness in talking about such matters to her Hispanic background.
“It was hard for me to talk about it just because I felt like other people were going through the same thing,” she said. “Why do I need to feel sorry for myself? Over time it just built up and got worse, and when I finally got here it was just… so bad that golf couldn’t m ‘help.”
One round wasn’t going to solve everything, and Salas saw the Atlanta Athletic Club enough to realize that the navigation won’t be smooth all week.
She led suddenly over Englishman Charley Hull, who got a 68 for the best score of the afternoon. What makes Hull happy is that she is coming home Monday after a month on the road, which preceded a seven-week spell playing on the LPGA Tour program.
Jessica Korda and former US Open Women’s Champion Jeongeun Lee were in a squad at 69, among nine players who managed to score high in the ’60s.
Nelly Korda, who last week became the first double winner of this LPGA Tour parity season, was at age 70 with a trio of major champions, including ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit, who started with three birdies in five holes and finished with a pair of birdies.
Seven-time major champion and Olympic gold medalist Inbee Park played better than her score of 71, all because of a hole.
She had mud on her ball from the rain earlier in the week, and she hung some 50 yards left on the eighth par 4 hole, along an embankment and in the water. After falling into a deep rough to a short-sided pin, she cautiously went a long distance to continue rolling down the hill, and she put down three putts for a triple bogey at about 70 feet.
Park atoned for this with a 75-foot bird putt on the 18th for a 71.
“I played really really well there today except for a mud ball,” Park said.
US Open Women’s champion Yuka Saso and Lexi Thompson, whose nine-back collapse at the Olympic club three weeks ago cost her the Women’s Open, played with Park. Each stroke 73.
Defending champion Sei Young Kim had a 76 and Michelle Wie West was 77.
Salas had no such problems. She finished with a hard putt, didn’t complain about any part of her play and put in a nervous putt at the end to keep a clean card.
Salas spoke of the darker and darker days before it dawned, and the turning point came a month ago at the Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill, the site of his only victory on the LPGA Tour in 2014. His youngest in this victory, John Killeen, is back on the sack. There were positive memories, good vibes.
“It just kindled a spark in me,” said Salas.
She has completed 18 consecutive pedestrian tournaments with a tie for fifth place, added another top 10 last week in Michigan and is all the rage.
“I had to take care of my mental health, and that’s something a lot of people don’t really take into consideration,” she said. “I think for me, coming from a Hispanic background, it’s very difficult to talk about it but I’m very lucky to have a team that was willing to bend over backwards to help me and get me there. where I am right now.
“I understand myself better and I’m at a point where I love myself again, even when the days aren’t as good as the others,” she added. “It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. I’m here and I play a lot better. I’m just happy to be here.”
Salas spent her time during the pandemic not using her phone and reading more books, which helped her slow down life, decompress and sleep more.
One of the books she read was titled “I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Girl,” which she considered an autobiography. She also read a book on Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
“And when you look at her story, she did it her own way and enjoyed her own process,” said Salas. “So I just pointed out a few things here and there. It’s really … [help put] me to sleep [too]. It’s a win-win. “
And then she burst into a big smile, which had been gone for too long.