Salas back in spotlight, so are political questions

By Randall MellFebruary 18, 2017, 6:33 pm

Lizette Salas made a bold crossing in the Twitterverse the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

She reached outside her usual golf focus in that space to make her disappointment known in the election results.

First, she retweeted actor Chris Evans’ strong statement on election day (Nov. 8).

And then Salas added her own feelings a day later.

There were a few other tweets and retweets during those two days, but Salas quickly moved back into the place she’s more comfortable, back into life as a tour player.

But with Salas leading the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open going into Sunday’s final, her opinions on matters outside golf are suddenly newsworthy again. She’s the child of Mexican immigrants and proud of her heritage. She opened herself to political questions with her public tweets, and Australian media obliged.

After Saturday’s round, Salas was asked about her level of “discomfort” with “the change” in the American government.

“That’s a really hard question,” Salas said. “I like to stay away from politics. I know I have expressed how I felt, and I think everyone is entitled to express that. There is going to be a lot of change, but I think our country is ready for it. I think we can come together and become stronger.

“But as far as my opinion about our new president, I don’t really have anything to say.”

Salas was thrust into political debate during Trump’s presidential campaign. She was besieged by a swarm of cameramen and reporters in Scotland two summers ago, with the Ricoh Women’s British Open being played at Trump Turnberry. Trump’s much ballyhooed arrival on the property via helicopter came shortly before Salas finished the first round.

After signing her scorecard that day, Salas was peppered with questions about what she thought of Trump’s controversial comments on illegal immigration, on Mexico “not sending its best,” but sending “people who have lots of problems,” including “rapists.”

Salas handled the media onslaught in Scotland with admirable grace, with a diplomat’s deft touch.

“I’m not a politician,” she said in Scotland. “My job is to win golf tournaments. “Everyone has a right to say what they feel. That is what’s great about living in the United States. I’m happy to be the child of Mexican immigrants, and I’m proud of my heritage.”

Salas is likely to face more questions like these, especially when she plays her way on to leaderboards, and especially with the U.S. Women’s Open scheduled to be played at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey July 13-16.

For now, Salas’ focus is on winning in Australia. Her strong family ties are there for everyone to see. Her father, Ramon, is there with her. She would love to win her second LPGA title for him.

When Salas broke through to win for the first time at the Kingsmill Championship three seasons ago, her father couldn’t be there.

“He was watching on the television,” Salas said. “So this would mean a lot. To bounce back from the year that I had last year, it would mean a lot.”

If you know Salas’ story, you know the strength of her bond with her parents. She got her start in golf when her father struck a deal with the head pro at Azusa Greens in suburban Los Angeles, where she grew up. Ramon was the head mechanic of the Azusa Greens grounds crew. When Ramon did some personal work for the pro there, instead of accepting payment, he asked if the pro could give his daughter lessons.

When Salas traveled the Symetra Tour after a stellar career at USC, she did so with her father, in his Toyota pickup truck. They spent more than one night sleeping in rest areas. Salas is living the American dream for more than herself, for more than her parents, she will say.

“When I was younger, I thought I was at a disadvantage because of where I grew up and what I didn’t have,” Salas once said. “But looking back, that is what made me who I am, and I’m very proud of that. Now, I’m in a position to help grow golf in Mexico and the U.S. I want to help grow the game, to get kids to play the game.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.