But it’s a story Lizette Salas doesn’t mind telling over and over again.
Fresh out of college from University of Southern California in 2011, Salas sat at the dinner table with her father just days before her professional golf debut when suddenly an unfamiliar phone number flashed across her screen.
“I don’t usually answer numbers that I don’t recognize, but this one I had a feeling it was something important, so I answered it,” said Salas.
Her intuition was right. On the other line was LPGA Tour legend Nancy Lopez.
“She introduced herself and I thought it was a joke,” said Salas.
They had an instant connection, knowing that their back stories were oddly comparable.
Salas, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, was born and raised just outside of Los Angeles where her father, Roman, took a job as a mechanic at a local golf course. As a young girl, Salas frequently went to work with him and it wasn’t long before she picked up a club. Seeing his daughter take an immediate liking to the sport, Roman performed handyman work in exchange for golf lessons from the head pro.
Against all odds, Salas earned a golf scholarship to USC, became a four-time All-American and the first person in her family to earn a degree.
Lopez, on the other hand, was also born to Mexican immigrants and grew up in Roswell, N.M. in the 1960s. Her father, Domingo, owned an auto body repair shop and introduced her to the game at a young age. She was a star in amateur competition and went on to play for the University of Tulsa Hurricanes. Although her college career was only two years, she won numerous events and was a two-time All-American.
It’s obvious what the purpose of the call was. Lopez saw a glimpse of herself in the rising star, and ultimately became a mentor to the 23-year-old.
“She’s like my golf mom,” said Salas. “She’s just been there for me, mostly for mental support and moral support and just teaching me how to be a successful player like staying up on the leaderboard and in contention. She’s been there, done that so many times so I take her advice to heart. I want to make her proud too because she’s on my support team.”
Salas says had it not been for her father’s relentless work and encouragement, her dreams of becoming an LPGA Tour pro would not have come to fruition.
“When my dad saw pictures of (Lopez) in magazines, he would cut them out and show me, like ‘look, you can do it to. There’s someone like you who is being very successful,’” said Salas. “He kind of gave me that hope that I could be the best player in the world someday, let alone be on the LPGA Tour. He impacted my life at a very young age.”
Salas and her father finally met Lopez for the first time at last year’s RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup. It was the start of a beautiful relationship.
“I think my dad was more excited than I was because she’s a legend and icon in women’s golf,” said Salas. “Ever since then we’ve texted back and forth and she’ll call me every once in a while and just ask how I feel at each event and game-wise.”
It has now been almost two years since Salas picked up the phone call from an unknown number, but the initial shock of an LPGA Tour legend reaching out to lowly college graduate still leaves her speechless.
“The fact that I get to have this relationship with her, not many players get to have that opportunity,” said Salas. “It’s just a dream come true to be honest. I get speechless just talking about it. I never thought she would ever reach out to me and the fact that she did, is just mind blowing.”
Now in her second year as an LPGA Tour pro, Salas has made a name for herself after stellar performances at the Kraft Nabisco Championship where she co-led heading into the final round and the LPGA LOTTE Championship Presented by J Golf where she fell to Suzann Pettersen in a sudden death playoff.
With undoubtedly one of the loudest and proudest cheering sections on Tour, Salas feels she plays for more than just herself. Because of her father and Lopez’ encouragement, she has painted a bigger picture of her LPGA Tour career.
“I’m out there for my family, for my ethnicity, for my background, for my community,” said Salas. “It’s much bigger than just playing golf. It’s living a dream that I’ve been working for, for a very long time.
“All of us have logos on our shirts and hats and I think it’s a definitely a team effort. I represent Azusa, USC, Southern Cal, USA. There’s so much more than just Lizette Salas. I think that’s a big part of what Nancy and my dad have been teaching me over the years. They know that I can do something on this Tour and I just have to believe it.”