At the LPGA Kingsmill Championship, before Lizette Salas could even get off the 18th green, the emotions hit – the demons of four close calls over the last two years exorcised. Gone are the questions, the doubts. She’s arrived and based on her previous company of winners in the 10-year history of this event, she could be headed for a major championship victory soon.
Every previous winner of this event – Grace Park, Se Ri Pak, Cristie Kerr, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Annika Sorenstam and Jiyai Shin - either had already won a major or went on to win a major after.
With rounds of 67, 68, 65 and an even par 71 in the final round over the River Course at the Kingsmill Resort in Virginia, Salas won by four shots and earned $195,000.
“I was patient, I was happy, and I was ready most importantly. I took a different approach this week of not thinking so much and trying to be perfect,” Salas said. “You know, I made a putter switch last week when I was home, and it was -- I felt so ready. There are so many emotions going on right now that I’m just trying to breathe.”
Judging by the glee with which Lydia Ko, Danielle Kang and Mina Harigae ran on the green after to celebrate her big win, she’s well deserving according to her peers. And it was fitting she had her peers to celebrate with because this was her first LPGA tournament that her parents weren’t on hand for.
“It is a dream come true. I’ve been working so hard for this. I’ve had so much support over the years and to finally break through my third season out on tour, I’m just so happy. Lot of emotions right now,” Salas said. “I wish my parents could have been here to witness it but I know they were glued to the TV. I think the whole city of Azusas was glued to the TV.”
Salas never really left it in doubt for them to worry. She opened the round with a three-shot lead and nailed a testy par putt at the first after leaving a lag putt well short. Then, she closed the door with birdies on the third and fifth hole to basically seal it up.
“That was a big putt just to start of the day – downhill slider. I even threw in a fist pump because I knew how important that was for me mentally and from a confidence standpoint. After that just kind of shook it off.”
Nancy Lopez had given her the advice of always look at the scoreboard when you’re in contention, and she followed that advice. She knew the cushion she had but still couldn’t avoid the nerves.
“Nerves were there, definitely there. The knees were shaking a little bit,” said Salas. “But after being in the Solheim Cup I learned how to control them and just knew where it hit it and just really stayed patient.”
Australia's Sarah Jane Smith had played 10 competitive rounds at Kingsmill prior before this week and had never carded in the 60s. That all changed this week when Smith went 68, 71, 70 and finished with a sizzling 5-under 66 that vaulted her all the way to into a tie for 2nd - the best finish of her career – at 9-under-par 275.
“I’ve always really liked this golf course. Just never been able to put it all together,” Smith said. “So I just feel comfortable here. I think that helped. Even though my results may not have shown it, I definitely love it here.”
Smith said she got a bit nervous on 16 coming in because she didn’t expect that even 5-under would be good enough to sneak into contention on Sunday based off of the leaderboard heading in.
“Not that I didn’t feel like I could play well, I really didn’t think even I’m really happy with 5 under for the day, but I didn’t think that would sneak in to wherever it is at the moment,” she said. “So I’m happy with that.”
England's Charley Hull put in another solid performance and finished in a tie for 18th place.
For further information visit: www.lpga.com
Image: Getty Images