WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — Lizette Salas didn’t have to wait long to be tested in her latest attempt at a breakthrough victory on the LPGA Tour.
The challenge came on the first hole Sunday in the Kingsmill Championship, after she was overly cautious with her first putt, leaving it nearly 10 feet short of the cup with a sliding, downhill test to save par.
She made it, the start of a day when she did little wrong on her way to a four-shot victory.
“Yeah, that was a big putt just to start off the day,” Salas said. “Downhill slider to the right. I mean, I even threw in a fist pump because I knew how important that was for me mentally and on a confidence standpoint.”
The 24-year-old Salas made it look easy the rest of the way, even while shooting just an even-par 71 on the River Course.
Salas started the day with a three-shot lead, doubled it with birdies on the par-5 third and par-3 fifth. A bogey on the par-4 eighth was her only hiccup – and only her third bogey in four rounds – until she three-putted the par-3 17th.
She finished at 13-under 271 and earned $195,000.
Yani Tseng, Kraft Nabisco winner Lexi Thompson and Sarah Jane Smith tied for second.
Salas was never really challenged in the final round on the River Course, and when her final putt fell on the 18th hole, she cupped her head in her hands and covered her face in celebration. Her winning moment was quickly interrupted, however, when four fellow players arrived and doused her with champagne, water and wine.
The victory came after Salas flirted with victory several times in her three years on tour. It also came after she missed the cut two weeks ago and realized she needed to change her mental approach to give herself a fighting chance.
“I felt like I wanted to be perfect all the time,” she said. “I felt like I needed to play like a top tier golfer every week. That’s not it. It’s about feeling confident. Golf is a sport where you can’t control everything. … I just took a step back and looked at golf differently. I just tried to have fun this week. That was the most important thing.”
This year, she tied for third in the season-opening event in the Bahamas and shared the lead after three rounds in the Kia Classic in her home state of California, but Anna Nordqvist closed with a 5-under 67 – to Salas’ 70 – to win by one.
Last year, playing alongside winner Inbee Park in the final group of the Kraft Nabisco, Salas shot 79 to tie for 25th. Two weeks later, Salas lost a playoff to Suzann Pettersen in the LPGA LOTTE in Hawaii. Salas chunked her approach into the water on the first extra hole after closing with a tournament-record 62.
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Salas was introduced to the game when her father, the head mechanic at Azusa Greens west of Los Angeles, did some handyman jobs for the club pro and, instead of pay, asked him to teach his daughter to play.
She went on to star at Southern California, where she was a four-time All-America selection and helped the Trojans win the 2008 NCAA title.
The victory came on a rare weekend when her parents didn’t come to the tournament, but watched from their home in California, and it brought tears to the eyes of Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, who has been a mentor of sorts for Salas.
“I’m crying. I’m so proud of her,” Lopez said by telephone after watching the celebration on the green. “She looked great out there, just very confident and swinging great. … Like she said on TV, she was ready. It was time.”
Salas expects “some tears of happiness” when she sees her parents Monday.
Tseng, seeking her first victory since 2012, got within three with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back nine, but she finished with two pars and a double bogey for a 69, expanding Salas’ lead to five shots.
Thompson had a 69, and Smith shot 66 – the best round of the day.
Tseng nearly made it very interesting at the par-5 15th, but her eagle putt stopped just short of the cup.
“One more roll it will be in,” she said. “I know if I make that I have a good chance.”
The tournament also featured a golf rarity, a double eagle. It was scored by Frenchwoman Joanna Klatten on No. 15.
Klatten said her drive left her a perfect distance away for her 3-wood, and she had a feeling something great was coming.
“It’s intuition. I had a good feeling about that shot,” she said. “Of course there is a little bit of luck in that.”