Lizette Salas shoots 5-under 67, grabs opening-round lead in KPMG Women's PGA Championship
Lizette Salas has been playing great golf on the LPGA Tour of late, and that solid play continued Thursday at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
But the success that’s come on the course has been in parallel to the work she’s put in on mental health off the course.
In a wide-ranging post round interview after opening with a 5-under 67 at Atlanta Athletic Club, Salas spoke publicly for the first time about some mental health challenges she had navigated the last year or so.
“I’m not afraid to be out here anymore,” Salas said, admitting she struggled for most of 2020.
“That was a really tough year for me. It was probably one of the lowest points of my career mentally, but I am so lucky to have a strong backbone and team... just to be there for me.
“I think we're on an upward trend, and golf is a lot more fun right now.” Salas leads by one after 18 holes at Atlanta Athletic Club over Charley Hull, who shot a 4-under 68.
Hull said she’s motivated to get home on Monday and see her friends and family after a long stretch away.
“I've been suffering a little bit with like being out there, being away from my family for so long sometimes, so I'm just out there trying to enjoy it as much as I can,” said Hull, who admitted she couldn’t remember much about her opening round as she was so focused on the task-at-hand.
She did say she was out there having fun, and that was the key to her opening-round success.
While Hull is just one shot back, there is a big-time group at 3-under and tied for third. That includes Dani Holmqvist, Yealimi Noh, Alena Sharp, Xiyu Lin, major winner Jeongeun Lee6, and Americans Jessica Korda and Austin Ernst – who have both won on the LPGA Tour this season.
Salas, meanwhile, said the crux of her returning to a focused and committed state on the golf course was due to the Solheim Cup in a few months. Trying to earn a spot on that team, she said, is what lit a fire in her.
The 31-year-old hasn’t finished outside the top-25 on the LPGA Tour in her last four starts, including a tie for sixth last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic.
“The Solheim Cup is always a goal, the big-time goal. But in order to achieve that, you have to play well in majors. I think I started off on a good note today just know that the goal is there, but at the same time there's little goals you have to achieve to get there. I think we're right on course,” said Salas.
“As long as I continue doing my process and believing in myself, it's in reach.”
Salas, who has finished in the top-10 in two of her last three KPMG Women’s PGA Championships, was bogey-free on Thursday. She birdied No’s 4 and 5 on the front nine and added three more birdies on the back nine, including her final two holes of the day.
Salas said it was a combination of things that made her 2020 difficult, besides the obvious COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really didn't like myself in 2020, and I think with the whole COVID and not being able to work and have golf as my outlet, that really hit hard,” said Salas.
Salas admitted she had trouble being open and honest to even those closest to her. But even last week at the U.S. Open when one of the top male golfers in the world, Matthew Wolff, began speaking openly about his mental health, she felt like now was as good a time as any to say what she had been going through.
“I wanted to talk about this in the beginning of the year, but I wasn't ready,” she said. “I guess now is the time to talk about it, and that's OK. Everyone has their own timeline of sharing what they've gone through. And I'm not going to lie. I'm a little nervous even talking about it now, but it's OK.
“And I'm in a much better place. Just happy to be here.”
In this instance, ‘here’ is on the top of the leaderboard through the first round of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
But ‘here’ also means in the present moment. Taking it one day at a time.
“We've turned over a new leaf, and... I'm happy where I am right now,” said Salas with a smile, “and I'm looking forward to the next few days.”