Paula Reto had dreams of being an Olympian, dating back to her early teen years in South Africa. However, golf wasn’t in that equation.
In the early 2000s, Reto was a promising track sprinter and field hockey player. Field hockey was more of a possibility to play on the Olympic stage as she participated with the South Africa U18 team and was one of the top players, enabling her to train with the U21 team that eventually would fill the Olympic roster.
But then the Reto family moved from Cape Town, South Africa, to Coral Springs, Fla., in 2005 as her father had changed jobs. The field hockey possibilities in the States were too difficult to meet as it required a one-hour commute to Miami. As a 15-year-old high school freshman, Reto took up golf, a pastime of her father, and fell in love with the sport.
“My dad was a golfer on weekends and I just started playing and it was a good fit,” Reto, 26, said. “When I started, I played on the Florida Junior Tour and was the worst player there. But I felt like I cold do this if I kept practicing. I knew it could lead to college and beyond.”
Now the Rio Olympic Games are just in front of her. The third-year LPGA player will be on the South African team with veteran Lee-Anne Pace when the women play August 17-20.
Pace, 35, offers a history of success in Europe (nine victories on the Ladies European Tour) and on the LPGA (2014 Blue Bay LPGA title). She has American ties, playing collegiately at Murray State and Tulsa. Her ties to South Africa are strong, with recent work with South African sports psychologist Eugene Oppelette and a new caddie, longtime friend Johan Swanepoel. Plus, her hero is World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els of South Africa and she plays out of Mossel Bay Golf Club, the same club as former British Open winner Louis Oosthuizen.
That influence could be helpful to Reto, who is seeking her first LPGA victory. Reto recorded ties for ninth this year at the Coates Golf Championship and JTBC Founders Cup two years after a career-best third at the 2014 Yokohama Tire Classic.
“I met Lee-Anne first when I came on the LPGA two years ago,” Reto said. “We both speak Afrikaans, which is good.”
The connection to South African golf is a learning curve for Reto since she left there a decade ago and didn’t play golf beforehand.
“I sort of feel like I live in an American way,” Reto said. “I try to go back to South Africa as much as possible to visit relatives. And we speak Afrikaans when around our family here. But I’m really happy that we came to America. If I had stayed in South Africa, I probably never would have taken up golf. In the States, I was able to go to school (Purdue) on scholarship and then play professionally.”
Reto plans to take in the full scope of the Games, hoping to travel to watch the Opening Ceremonies the first week of August and practicing at the venue and watching the South African men (currently Branden Grace and Jaco Van Zyl) play Aug. 11-14.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Reto said. “My schedule is crammed in before then, but it’s something I’ve got to do.”