Giving Back to the Game: Lizette Salas Makes It Her Mission to Uplift Youth
Lizette Salas looked at several dozen smiling faces gathered around her at a recent Youth on Course/SCGA Junior event at Palos Verdes GC and beamed. What she saw that made her proud were boys and girls from different backgrounds. It warmed her heart. The game of golf — her life’s work and passion — provides so many more opportunities today than when she started playing some 25 years ago.
Salas became a Youth on Course ambassador in April. The organization provides $5 rounds of golf, scholarships, internships and a caddie program for kids. As someone who has always helped kids, inspired kids and believed in kids, Salas viewed this as another step on the road to connecting children and golf.
“I see myself in them,” she says. “I’m seeing the next generation coming up and seeing how diverse the golf community is. It means we’re going in the right direction. It means that everything I went through is worth it, and it means that the golf community is becoming more open-minded as the years go on.”
Salas says that for her generation, golf often felt out of reach. “Now,” she says, “we’re seeing so many people of different backgrounds and stories. We’re connecting with pretty much anyone who’s interested in the game, and it’s pretty heartwarming to see that.”
When Salas was growing up, she flourished under the direction of Jerry Herrera, head professional at Azusa Greens CC. She was able to play at that course because her dad worked there as a mechanic. He traded extra work at the course for golf lessons for his daughter.
“I had my comfort bubble at that golf course, and it’s still my home,” she says. “When I would go to tournaments, I felt a lot of eyes on me. I knew I was different and came from a different background and that nothing was ever going to be given to me. I had a lot of doubt, not just from others but from myself. If it wasn’t for that golf course I had access to and organizations like the SCGA and SCPGA that encouraged youth golf and allowed me to play at these golf courses, I wouldn’t be here today.”
And because so many people helped her, she loves returning the favor.
“I never forget where I came from, and I think Youth on Course and SCGA Junior has that same mission,” Salas said. “Let’s create good human beings who give back to their communities, and continue to break barriers and build access to youth golf from all cultures.”
Now 32, Salas was a four-time All-American at USC and a national champion. While in college, she practiced at Palos Verdes GC and blossomed under the tutelage of Jim Gormley, who helped — and still does help — USC golfers with their swings.
On this day, she would answer several questions and share her experiences. She stressed the importance of a college education — she was the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college — and confidence.
One girl asked Salas how she dealt with the mental part of playing golf.
“That’s a hard one,” Salas answered. “You know what I’ve learned? You can outwork talent with your mental game by telling yourself you’re capable of playing great golf, that you’re capable of pulling off shots and you’re capable of winning. As a kid, I loved winning. I played with boys. Boys didn’t like losing to me. I loved that. I ended up getting respect from that. I created a lot of friendships because of that competitiveness.”
Another junior asked her when and how she knew she wanted to be a professional golfer.
“I loved to win, but at the same time I didn’t know pro golf was within my reach,” Salas said. “I thought because of where I grew up and what I looked like, I was only supposed to [go so far]. But organizations like you guys are part of, they opened different doors and [let me know I was] capable of more. I’m very thankful and happy that I get to now tell you you’re capable of more, regardless of what you look like and where you come from.”
Finally, one girl asked how golf made her feel.
“Golf makes me feel a lot of things,” Salas said. “Golf makes me feel powerful, independent and also very safe. I don’t have to be anybody else but myself. I feel comfortable in my own skin. It’s an independent sport, and I feel like a boss. It makes me feel good about myself.”
And that’s a message worth remembering.