Although plenty of athletes have used sports to lift themselves from difficult backgrounds, LPGA rookie Lizette Salas’ path to the pros isn’t the sort of story that’s often heard in golf.
The 22-year-old Salas shot a 3-under-par 69 in the first round of the U.S. Women’s Open on Thursday in Kohler, Wis., grabbing a share of the lead along with fellow Americans Cristie Kerr, the 2007 Open winner, and Brittany Lincicome.
Salas is the daughter of Mexican immigrants from Azusa, Calif., a Los Angeles-area city with a history of gang issues. With help from her family, she used golf to earn a scholarship to USC — and now, a share of the Open lead.
With her family on hand to cheer her on this week, Salas sees her play as a tribute to her parents.
“My dad still works long hours out on the golf course, my mom also,” Salas said. “So this is just my way of repaying them for all their sacrifice and all their work they’ve done for me.”
Third-ranked Ai Miyazato, the Japanese star coming off a victory Sunday in the LPGA Tour event in Arkansas, was a stroke back along with 17-year-old Lexi Thompson, Jennie Lee and Beatriz Recari. Seven players — including No. 5 Na Yeon Choi and No. 6 Suzann Pettersen — shot 71 in the nearly 100-degree heat and high humidity that turned Blackwolf Run – a challenging 6,944-yard course in central Wisconsin – into a boiler.
Top-ranked Yani Tseng shot a 74. She would become the youngest to complete a career Grand Slam with a victory this weekend.
Salas began playing at age 7 thanks in large part to her father, Ramon, who is the head mechanic at a golf course and offered to do odd jobs for a local pro if he was willing to teach Salas.
“He didn’t have that much money to pay for lessons because they’re really expensive,” Salas said. “I didn’t have golf shoes. I didn’t know how to dress, nothing like that. They worked out a deal where my dad did handyman favors for them. My dad fixed cars on the side, and that’s how I got started. … Haven’t stopped.”
OCHOA TO RETURN
Ex-No. 1 player Lorena Ochoa, 30, is making a limited return by playing the French Open on the Ladies European Tour in October.She retired to her native Mexico in 2010 and gave birth to a son in late 2011.
Vijay Singh had his best round in six months, a 7-under 63, to take the first-round lead at the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic in White Sulpur Springs, W.Va. … Christian Nilsson of Sweden shot a 6-under 65 to lead by one stroke after the first round of the French Open in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.