Lizette Salas Is Inspirational
By Conor Nagle under LPGA

Salas booked her place on the LPGA Tour with four consecutive birdies (three in a playoff).

An LPGA Tour rookie with but a single paycheck to her name may appear an unusual subject for an LA Times profile, but Lizette Salas can boast of a biography every bit as stirring and inspirational as those of her more illustrious, major-winning peers.

Often the product of a compulsive desire to indulge the competitive instincts, to flatter one’s sense of self-esteem and worth, the decision to opt for a career as a touring professional is usually a luxury afforded only the most privileged and entitled of America’s college-going bourgeoisie.

In the case of Salas, the 22-year-old daughter of a public course mechanic, however, her career choice emerges more as the logical culmination of a decade-long struggle against the stultifying constraints of poverty and its attendant culture of reduced expectations.

The LA Times’ Diane Pucin sets the scene:

“She learned to play golf at Azusa Greens Country Club, an undistinguished public layout where Ramon worked as a mechanic.

Head pro Jerry Herrera once asked if Ramon had any children who might want to take golf lessons.

Of his three it was Lizette who showed interest. And talent. She would follow her father around when he worked, making practice swings with a rusty iron. Herrera said Lizette had an immediate aptitude for the game.”

After success at junior level, Salas attended the University of Southern California on a golf scholarship and, in doing so, became the first member of her family to receive a degree-level qualification.

The magnitude of her success, both academic and athletic, led to her being granted the honour of delivering the commencement address at the university athletic department’s 2011 graduation ceremony.

Her speech, a rumination on the significance of race and class in the context of her own achievement, is worth a look:

Then, last December, she secured her second significant graduation, this time to the ranks of the LPGA Tour, in the most dramatic circumstances possible, birdieing the final hole of regulation play before notching a hat-trick of birdies in a nine-woman playoff to ensure her privileges for the coming season.

The achievement of a near-lifelong goal, Salas’s playoff victory also brought to an end a six-month dalliance with the mini-tour circuit, during which she travelled to tournaments in the family pick-up, parking in rest areas as a means of avoiding hotel bills and living expenses.

The USC alum also runs a charitable foundation, San Gabriel Junior Golf, and hopes her success on the LPGA Tour will afford it the exposure and sponsorship it requires to become a nationwide initiative.

Lizette Salas will play the first 36 holes of this week’s Kia Classic in the company of Australia’s Sarah Kemp and Jodi Ewart.

Conor Nagle