JOHNS CREEK, Ga. Lizette Salas was in her lucky spot on Thursday, and not just because she kept away from her card at the tough Atlanta Athletics Club and placed a 5-under-67 for a single lead in the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. .
Her game is rounding off in form as the Solheim Cup approaches. It’s a big deal for her, too.
But the broad smile stretched far beyond golf.
The COVID-19 pandemic claimed the 31-year-old Californian its toll, which dampened her usual spark and created anxiety that she was initially nervous.
“I really did not like myself in 2020, and I think with the whole COVID [pandemic] and not being able to work and have golf as my outlet, which hit really hard, ‘Salas said.
She had never spoken about it in public until Thursday, confident that the worst was behind her. She never talked to her parents, coaches or support team about it. She is a Mexican-American with a difficult path to the LPGA Tour and attributes her stubbornness to talking about such matters to her Spanish background.
“It was hard for me to even talk about it just because I felt like other people were going through the same thing,” she said. “Why do I have to feel sorry for myself? Over time, it accumulated and got worse, and when I finally got out of here, it was just … so bad that golf could not help.”
One round would not solve everything, and Salas has seen enough of the Atlanta Athletics Club to realize that it will not go smoothly all week.
She led by one shot over Charley Hull of England, who had a 68 for the best score that afternoon. What makes Hull happy is that she’s on her way home on Monday after a month, which preceded a stretch of seven weeks before the LPGA tournament.
Jessica Korda and former US Open champion Jeongeun Lee were on a group at 69, among nine players who managed to place scores in the 60s.
Nelly Korda, who became the first two-time winner at this LPGA tournament last week, was at 70 with a trio of grand champions, including ANA-inspired winner Patty Tavatanakit, who started with three birdies in five holes and with a few birds.
Inbee Park, the seven-time grand champion and Olympic gold medalist, played better than her score of 71, all due to one hole.
She had mud on her ball from rain earlier in the week, and it hooked about 50 yards on the eighth hole par-4, along a bank and into the water. After falling into a deep ridge to a short-sided pin, she went conservatively long to roll it down the hill again, and she had a three-part bow about 70 feet down.
Park reconciled on the 18th for a 71 with a 75-foot birdie.
“I played really well out there, except for one mudball,” Park said.
U.S. Open champion Yuka Saso and Lexi Thompson, whose nine consecutive crashes at Olympic Club cost her the Women’s Open three weeks ago, played with Park. Each shot 73.
Defending champion Sei Young Kim had a 76, and Michelle Wie West was at 77.
Salas did not have such problems. She ends up with a tough par-put, has had no complaints about any part of her game and ends up making a nervous par-put to keep a clean card.
Salas chatted on days that got darker before it got light, and the turning point was a month ago at the Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill, where her lone LPGA tournament took place in 2014. Her caddy of victory, John Killeen, is back on the bag. There were positive memories, good atmosphere.
“It just lit a spark in me,” Salas said.
She finished 18 straight tournaments for pedestrian play with a draw for the fifth, added another top-10 in Michigan last week and is leaning.
“I had to take care of my mental health, and that’s something a lot of people don’t really consider,” she said. ‘I think for me, from a Spanish background, it’s very difficult to talk about it, but I’m very happy to have a team that was willing to bend over backwards to help me and get me where I am now. is.
“I just understand myself more, and I’m at a point where I like myself again, even when days are not as good as others,” she added. “It was quite a roller coaster of emotions. Here I am, and I play much better. Just happy to be here.”
Salas spent her time during the pandemic staying away from her phone and reading more books, which helped her slow down life, decompress and sleep more.
One of the books she read was “I’m Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter,” which she said was like an autobiography. She also read a book about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
“And if you look back at her history, she did things her way and enjoyed her own process,” Salas said. “So I just highlighted 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 missing for too long.