Sometimes your game clicks on all cylinders. Every drive looks like it’s hugging the centerline and every iron shot feels flush the second you make contact. You see the lines on the greens as if they’d been painted for you, and your brain instinctively knows how hard to hit each and every putt. On those days you shoot career-low scores and course records, like the 62 Paula Reto fired on Thursday, the lowest score in her nine seasons on the LPGA Tour by a couple of shots.
But other days, you don’t feel it. Certain clubs seem like foreign objects in your hands and the fairways, once so easily found, look like bowling lanes.
It is those days when experience and determination make all the difference; when grinding out a good score requires a mixture of imagination and fortitude; when you have to keep your wits about you while searching for some feel, some key to get through your day.
That was Reto’s round on Saturday, a bogey-free 67 that looked, at times, like it could have been a couple of shots better and, at other times, looked like she could have gone sideways in a second.
“Obviously, like those times when you go low like that, it's just the putts drop and everything you see goes in,” Reto said of the 62 early in the week. “Sometimes you’re trying to think that is good, but I need to stay patient. Not all the putts drop.”
That voice of experience can sometimes be hard to hear. But Reto has been around long enough to know how the game can come to you, and how quickly it can go away. She hit eight fairways and 13 greens on Saturday – not abysmal, but not the kind of day you would expect to move a player into solo third, a shot off the lead, and in the final threesome on Sunday. But a bit of magic and a solid head on her shoulders kept Reto with a clean card and a good shot at her first career victory.
Two of the last three holes told the tale of Reto’s round. On 16, a dogleg left par-4 where finding the fairway leaves you with a wedge in your hand, Reto hit a towering pull that flew over one oak tree and into another. She was fortunate to have any shot at all, but the one she had wasn’t great – a low, punch hook to a back-left hole location. She almost pulled it off, coming up short, but in a terrible lie in the rough.
With one foot in a greenside bunker and one foot out, the ball a good 18 inches above her feet, and in rough so deep you had to stand directly over the ball to see it, Reto took a near full swing and managed to get the ball within a few inches of the green. From there, looking at a solid 20-footer for par, she went through her normal routine, and rolled it right in the center. Ho-hum, routine four.
Two holes later, at the par-5 18th, the driver betrayed her again. Only this time she flared it right. Her ball almost landing in a golf cart beside a spectator pavilion. From there, Reto smartly punched out and left herself a full shot into the green. She hit it well and had 10 feet for birdie and a share of the lead.
The putt just lipped out and Reto enters Sunday a shot behind Hye-Jin Choi and Narin An, a group that has zero collective wins on the LPGA Tour. To be fair, Choi and An are rookies, the former being just 23 years old with eight top-10 finishes already and the latter a 26-year-old from the KLPGA who earned medalist honors at LPGA Q-Series last year.
Reto is 32. In nine seasons she has battled injury, disappointment, setbacks and doubt. And now, with a new Canadian putting coach in Gareth Raflewski and a renewed peace of mind, the affable South African seems ready for what could be a life-changing day.
“I’m just sort of trying to stay patient,” she said after her round on Saturday. “Trying to make it really easy for myself. Hit the fairway, make it fun out there, too. Having fun with my caddie as well. That makes it easier.”
That was the voice of experience again, one she must heed on Sunday for Paula Reto to finally break through.