USC's Salas Living the Dream
By Ryan Reiswig
It was seven years ago that USC's standout golfer, Lizette Salas, accomplished something that most veteran golfers would only dream of doing. She shot a 62.
This 62 wasn't for the front-nine like it would be for the majority of weekend golfers out there. Salas's score of 62 was her full 18 hole score, and she did it at the ripe age of 15. It was at that moment that she knew she had something special.
"I was like 'Oh my God, what did I just do?'" says Salas, a senior. "That was an eye opener for me. I was like, 'Wow, I can go deep.' So right then when I was 15, it just went into full gear."
It went into full-gear and it hasn't downshifted. As the women's 2010 Pac-10 Championships approach, Salas is on the verge of becoming USC's first four-time All-American. This is something she's not taking lightly and something she's striving for.
"The fact that I could be the first one is pretty incredible and that's one of my goals this year," says Salas, an Azusa, Calif., native. "Hopefully at the end of the season I'll be an All-American again. I want that to set a trend to other girls coming up and to my teammates that you can set your goals high and you can accomplish them."
The goals for Salas were not only set high by herself, but also by her family.
"I never doubted myself, but at the same time I don't want to be cocky, I wanted my golf to do the talking," says Salas. "My family had no doubt that I could be really good."
Among those family members is her father, Ramon, a head mechanic at Lizette's home course, Azusa Greens in Azusa, Calif. Ramon's initial intention was for Lizette's brother to play golf, but he had already fallen in love with football. This was where Lizette's golf career started, at the young age of 7.
"One day he took me out to work with him," says Salas, who leads active USC golfers with 12 rounds in the 60s. "He gave me a club and told me to swing and I started swinging. He was good friends with the head-pro at the time and in exchange for lessons my dad would do work for him."
That head pro is Jerry Herrera. He was instrumental in Salas's learning of the game and helped her become the golfer she is today.
"He's the one that basically started me off and made it really fun," says Salas. "To this day we're really good friends. He called me 'mija', which means little daughter in Spanish so we've definitely grown into a more personal relationship and he's really involved in my golf and my life."
As much as Herrera was involved in teaching Salas the game of golf, her father was just as important in making her the player she is today. In addition to his work at the golf course, many of Ramon's free daylight hours were spent on the course or driving range.
"He's a very hard worker," says Salas of her father. "I remember him ending work at four, he would wait for me and we'd leave the course at like seven. He would be at the course from seven in the morning to seven at night."
In addition to helping his daughter practice early on, Ramon taught his daughter the same work ethic that he exhibits in his own life.
"What's been very helpful with Lizette is the role her father played in her golf career," says Andrea Gaston, head women's golf coach at USC. "Her dad has an understanding for the work ethic and he has a passion for the game and really got his daughter into the game initially."
After dominating the high school golf scene at Azusa High School, it was time for Salas to choose where she'd play at the next level. For someone as talented and successful as Salas was throughout high school, it's no surprise there were many colleges recruiting her to join their team. Among them were Pac-10 schools UCLA and Arizona.
"I don't want to be rude but (USC) wasn't the top choice for me (at first)," admits Salas. "I was really into Arizona and UCLA. My high school was baby blue and I liked UCLA because of their colors."
Once Salas was heavy into the recruiting process, however, she realized choosing her college was bigger than what the school colors were. One important aspect in her choice was graduating from college, something no one in her family had done yet.
"One thing that coach (Gaston) really focuses on is being a student-athlete and having her girls graduate," says Salas. "I'm going to graduate in May and it's a really big accomplishment. I like the tradition here at USC, once I stepped on campus I realized, 'Oh my God I want to come here.'"
Salas obviously made the right choice. On top of being an All-American in each of her first three years at USC, she was 2008 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and participated in the 2010 U.S. Women's Open Championship. During her time at USC, she's made improvements on her game not only physically, but also mentally.
"I think she's matured as a person and a player," says Gaston, in her 15th year as head coach. "She doesn't really get anxious; she's become a really patient player. She's understanding more about working on her areas of weakness. Working on what she doesn't do as well, she's understanding how that can really pay off big-time."
Very soon the Pac-10 and NCAA Championships will be over, as will Salas's college career. Though she expects to continue her golf career, Salas admits there will be many aspects of college golf she'll miss.
"Team play, being part of a team," says Salas. "That's going to be really hard for me. I'm not going to miss waking up early, just the team part - matching uniforms, working out together, living together. I'm going to miss that."
Although she won't be living the college experience anymore, she'll more than likely find other things to occupy her time. That includes continuing her golf career at the next level, professionally.
"I think she can be very successful and definitely make a career out there," says Gaston. "I think she has to stay grounded and recognize where she's come from in these last four years. Dream big but take it one day at a time."
Salas will be plenty busy considering what goals she's already set for herself.
"(My) ultimate goal is to be number one in the world and other than that, to win the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico, that'd be really big. And to be on the Solheim Cup for the U.S.," Salas says.