PITTSFORD, N.Y. - The back injury differed. So did the time off needed. But Lizette Salas couldn’t help but take notice a week and half ago when Tiger Woods reinjured his lower back and withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational.
Salas had been out since June 29 with a bulging disc in her back but was planning to return last weekend at the Meijer LPGA Classic Presented by Kraft but after seeing Woods reinjure his lower back, she pulled out of the event and delayed her return to this week at the Wegmans LPGA Championship.
“I actually intended to come back last week, but I was not in any way shape or form ready. I needed another week to stay home so we made the decision to not go to Michigan and give myself a couple more rehab sessions,” Salas said. “I think that was a good call by my team and I. Yeah, it’s a major week, but I’m just happy to be back out here.”
On and off, back issues have plagued her for the last three years. The latest was triggered when she leaned over to pick her ball out of the hole. She felt a pinch, went to stretch it out and made it worse. For a week, she just rested, iced it and hoped it’d go away. After that, she aggressively attacked her rehab and may have found the remedy in the form of an exercise she never believed she’d try.
“Pilates, for sure. I thought I was going to hate it because of things I’ve heard about it, but I got this trainer, she’s so good at keeping it fun and entertaining,” Salas said. “I fell in love with it, and I’m just going to keep it going.”
She’s also hoping she can return to the way she was playing before the injuries set her back. She finished in a tie for third to open the season, was just one shot back of Anna Nordqvist at the Kia Classic, and then got her major breakthrough at the Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC with the first win of her career. The month that followed was a frustrating mix of illness and uncharacteristic play. She missed the cut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer two weeks after Kingsmill and got food poisoning at the U.S. Women’s Open, forcing her to withdraw after round one. Then, the back injury happened, forcing her to put the clubs in the closet for a period. Even she won’t know where the game’s at until she tees it up Thursday but likes what she’s seen so far.
“It’s still there. It’s like riding a bike,” she said. “I’m just in a happy place right now, and if I can just hit fairways and greens and give myself a good look at birdie, I’m happy with that. I’ll just kind of see where my game is.”
Regardless of how she plays, she’ll appreciate the walk. The time away from the game provided perspective and a forced reminder of her love for it. Players sometimes play the best with no expectations, and that’s the mindset Salas is entering Thursday’s first round with.
“I’m just happy to be back out here. I love competing. It’s so nice to say that you’re playing with no pain. I was so happy with just that. I don’t care if I made bogey, I was just happy I could actually hit the ball,” Salas said. “So to be back out here with my fellow competitors, here with the fans, I’m just happy about that. No expectations this week, just come out here and have fun.”
She knows the back injury isn’t just going away. It’s likely something she’ll struggle with on and off her entire career, but the hope is the core strengthening that comes from pilates could help take the pressure off of her back and prevent it from being an issue in the future.
“My whole left side is weaker than my right side, so it’s something I have to learn to deal with and prevent it,” she said.