Lizette Salas connects with fans
PARKER, Colo. -- When Lizette Salas finished an unpleasant weekend at the U.S. Women's Open final round in June, someone important was waiting with an encouraging word.
Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, a mentor for Salas, gave the youngster a motherly hug and told her not to get too upset over her scores of 82-74 on Saturday and Sunday at Sebonack Golf Club. After all, Salas was still having a good year and was on target to make her first Solheim Cup team.
"I still signed autographs, still said hi to the volunteers," Salas said. "Things like that help you emotionally, and they also go a long way with the fans. I try to make it a priority. Now, the Solheim Cup is going to be a really great opportunity to give back to the fans."
Lopez always said what you give to the fans, they will give back to you. Few LPGA players have connected with the crowd better than Lopez, so she's an excellent model to follow for a naturally outgoing personality such as Salas.
She is coming off her best finish at a major: sixth at the Women's British Open at St. Andrews.
"I thought it was big to see Lizette Salas play well [in Scotland]," former PGA Tour player and Golf Channel analyst Curt Byrum said. "For her to really have the confidence up high … I think that bodes well for her.
"I like the way Salas plays a lot. I think the fact that she's had a couple of good opportunities to win this year says a lot about her. I get this feeling from her that she is sort of unafraid and just looks forward to the opportunity of putting herself in those positions where she's really nervous and has to perform at a high level."
Salas, playing in the Solheim Cup for the first time, talked Tuesday about the "coolness" factor of being part of the U.S. team.
"When I first stepped into my hotel room, it was just like Christmas," Salas said of all the gear that comes with playing in this event. "I saw the huge pillow that had 'Lizette' on it, and I was just stoked."
Salas, who turned 24 in July, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who settled in California. She had a successful career at USC, earning All-America honors all four years there. In 2011 she became the first person in her immediate family to get a college degree, then later qualified for the LPGA Tour on her first attempt.
Salas has six top-10s in her brief pro career, five of them this year. Closing well is something she's still learning to do at this level, and some older players say competing in the Solheim Cup helps you with that.
Stacy Lewis, who recently won the Women's British Open and is the No. 2-ranked player in the world, said her Solheim team experience in 2011 made a big difference in her individual game.
"If that doesn't happen, I don't think I would have done anything I've done in the last two years," Lewis said of a period in which she was named the 2012 LPGA player of the year and was briefly No. 1. "It changed me as a golfer and as a person.
"I learned so much about myself and how to handle adversity. It's not just how you play on the course, it's how you carry yourself and how you affect other people around you."
Asked to compare the difference between the pressure of trying to close out a major and of playing in the Solheim Cup, Lewis said, "I don't want to scare Lizette, but …"
Salas, sitting next to Lewis, jokingly pantomimed putting her hands over her ears.
"It feels like you're walking up 18 of a major with the lead," Lewis continued. "That's what every hole feels like at the Solheim Cup."
Salas, though, is ready to handle it. She enjoys the interaction with people and the energy that was clearly present even early in the week at Colorado Golf Club.
One of four Solheim first-timers for the United States, Salas is also happy to be back on a team again, as she was at USC.
"It's so different from the rest of the season where you're all by yourself," Salas said of standard tour life. "[Then] it's all about you and your goals. Now, your goals are also 11 other people's goals. I'm loving every single moment of it."