Women's Amateur Loss Strengthens Salas' Resolve; Has Her Focused At 2009 WAPL
By Stuart Hall
Devens, Mass. — Lizette Salas is not fond of losing, but there is one defeat she may embrace for as long as she plays golf.
The date was Aug. 6, 2008, the first round of match play at the U.S. Women’s Amateur at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club. Salas, coming off her conference freshman of the year season at the University of Southern California, drew Amanda Blumenherst, the heavily decorated all-everything from Duke University.
On paper, it appeared lopsided in Blumenherst’s favor, but through seven holes Salas was 3 up. By the 12th hole the match was squared, and when they walked off the 17th green, Blumenherst had advanced, 2 and 1.
“I left saying I never want that to happen ever again,” said Salas, 19, of Azusa, Calif. “That loss was my momentum boost, it jump-started me to became a better player — no question.”
Salas returned to the USC campus for her sophomore campaign dedicated to improving, and there is no disputing the empirical data — a drop of 2.21 strokes from her scoring average compared to her freshman season, two wins and nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts, all of which helped her secure 2009 Pacific 10 Conference Player of the Year honors.
“I think she didn’t see herself as being equal to a player of Blumenherst’s caliber,” said Southern California coach Andrea Gaston. “I think she felt intimidated. Now, I don’t see her being intimidated by anyone.”
Salas has her improved game on display this week at the 33rd U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship at Red Tail Golf Club. After opening with a first-round low 68 in stroke-play qualifyingr, Salas, the 2008 WAPL co-medalist, posted a 74 to draw the eighth seed. On Wednesday, she separated herself from Kristina Nhim, 16, of Buena Park, Calif., on the second nine for a 2-and-1 victory.
“One of my goals this week is to see how many matches I can win,” said Salas, who improved to 3-4 in five USGA championship appearances, including her third WAPL. Salas faces Stefanie Kenoyer, 20, of Lighthouse Point, Fla., in Thursday’s second round.
Salas arrived in New England not quite sure how she would play. A nagging ping in her left knee persisted through the last month of the collegiate season, and then she sprained her lower back in the third round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship on May 21.
Following the Trojans’ third-place finish Salas had her back examined, and her left knee for good measure. The diagnosis was a small tear in her left meniscus, and the treatment was a couple of weeks rest, thus forcing her to withdraw from U.S. Women’s Open sectional qualifying on June 8.
“I didn’t start swinging my driver again until last Wednesday,” said Salas, who was a first-round victim last year at the WAPL. “I was relieved to know I hadn’t fallen behind the other players in terms of the level of my game.
“I was happy with a 68 on Monday, and then put up the 74. So I was pleased. I’ve been hitting the ball well and I have a new putter and it fits me well, so I’m pretty comfortable.”
Gaston said Salas easily transitioned into being one of the Trojans’ top players after they lost a couple of seniors from their 2008 national championship team.
“Lizette is very much a team player, so coming into her second year, I think she knew she could provide so much more for this team,” said Gaston, “and from what I could see, she handled everything very well.”
The changes in Salas’ game were not so much to her swing and putting as it was her practice habits. She learned that a focused one-hour session was more beneficial than a haphazard two hours. Also, identifying and improving weak spots would bring a greater return than continually repeating the strong parts.
“I am just more comfortable with myself as a golfer,” she said. “It seemed the more I pushed myself, and the more success I had, the more confident I became.”
And for all of her newfound success, Salas cannot let go of that one loss to Blumenherst.
“I can’t believe I had that much of a lead … my brain just went dead and it bit me,” she said. “But looking back now, I’m kind of glad it happened.”
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.