(Photo/Courtesy Lizette Salas)

LA’s first Latina professional golfer competes in LPGA event

Lizette Salas at 22 already has her dream job. She spends 30 hours a week on the golf course as a full-time golf professional. She’s been touring for about two weeks now, and she placed to compete in the first major event of the LPGA season, the Kraft Nabisco Championship, which started yesterday and continues through Sunday.

“If I win, I jump in a lake, and get a robe, and then I’m headed to Hawaii in two weeks to compete there,” says Salas. “It’s my job and my life, and I just enjoy being out there.”

She recalls when she was just starting out as a golfer at 7-years-old. She says it was a way to connect with her dad who worked as the head mechanic at Azusa Greens Golf Course. That’s where she swung her first club.

The daughter of Mexican immigrant parents is the first in her family to play the sport professionally and graduate from college, and she says it’s hard to explain why she loves the sport so much.

“I’m definitely a competitor,” says Salas. “Something comes out of me, and I become so focused. I don’t mess around.”

She also finds it so peaceful.

“Your opponent is not another person, but the golf course,” she says. “I think that’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it.”

Two weeks ago, Salas finally met her long-time role model, the now retired Latina golf professional, Nancy Lopez.

“She calls me from time to time to give me advice,” says Salas. “I’ve been watching her since I was younger. She opened up the door to not just women, but women of color, to the game of golf. She’s so feminine and a fierce competitor. She didn’t let anything stand in her way.”

She says Lopez called her the day before her pro career started.

“I was nervous and she said, ‘It’s ok to be nervous, because that means you care.’ And that has stuck with me,” says Salas. “I care about this sport, and what I bring to this sport. She says to have fun and to breathe…to embrace it and take one day at a time.”

Salas understands how much a mentor can mean to a kid, especially growing up in a rough neighborhood herself. Ever since she graduated from the University of Southern California in May, she coaches for a few hours a week at the foundation her father co-founded called San Gabriel Junior Golf. Each student only has to pay $1 per lesson.

“Trying to teach the kids and just seeing their smiles makes everything worth it,” says Salas. “Parents come to me for advice on how to steer their kids in a positive way. I give them fitness tips but mostly give them high fives or a hug whenever I see them.”

She says golf opened up the door to see what else is out there, and she hopes it does the same for other kids.

“When I was younger, people didn’t people believe in me, and when I did, people kind of jumped on board,” she says. “People would say ‘Mexicans don’t play golf. It’s not in their blood,’ but I used that as my motivation to move forward. I kind of learned to switch the negativity.”

Her father, Ramon, says in Spanish that thanks to golf, his daughter has matured and exceeded as a woman and a professional.

“In a way we try to imitate her,” he says. “She motivates us to help the other children, because they see that it can be done…one can be better every day.”

Her positive demeanor and fighter spirit have won Salas over $60,000 in earnings last year, and about $20,000 this year. She says that her dad still works a lot today and her goal is to have her parents retire as soon as possible.

“They don’t need to work anymore,” says Salas. “I don’t want them to.”

She says she also wants to be the best player in the world, bring a different audience to the game of golf, and represent the community well.

“Sometimes it’s overwhelming, but now I’m a role model, so I can’t give up,” says Salas. “I have to demonstrate that Latinas can be great golfers like Nancy Lopez and Lorena Ochoa.”

%d bloggers like this: