Salas trying to end rookie season on high note

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NAPLES, Fla. – Lizette Salas is inspired by Nancy Lopez.

She’s inspired by Lorena Ochoa, too.

“They’re my role models,” Salas said.

Salas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, believes she might not be playing the LPGA without the Mexican-American Lopez and Mexico’s Ochoa having shown her the way.

With a 4-under-par 68 Thursday, Salas is tied for seventh in the first round of the CME Group Titleholders. The American is looking to make her rookie campaign memorable with a strong finish in the season-ending event.

Salas, 23, learned to play at Azusa Greens Golf Course in West Covina, Calif., where her father, Ramon, was the head mechanic. Ramon did extra work around the club to earn Lizette playing privileges. Ramon was very much like Lopez’s father, Domingo, in guiding his daughter’s career.

“My dad never missed a junior golf event,” Lizette said.

As a Symetra Tour rookie last year, Lizette and Ramon traveled the country together in the family’s Toyota Tundra pickup truck. Ramon caddied.

“When we first met Nancy Lopez, my dad was more excited than I was,” Salas said.

Salas, a four-time All-American at USC, said she was touched when Lopez heard about her and reached out. Salas was out for dinner with her father before beginning her Symetra Tour rookie season in 2011 when her phone rang.

“It was a Georgia number,” Salas said. “I usually don’t answer calls when I don’t recognize the number, but something told me to answer this call.”

Salas smiles recalling the conversation.

“She says, 'Hi, this is Nancy Lopez,'” Salas said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Salas suspected her brother was making another prank call, but it quickly became clear it really was Lopez. She called to encourage Salas.

“I was shaking on the phone talking to her,” Salas said.

Before her debut as an LPGA rookie this year, Salas met Lopez face to face for the first time in Phoenix at the RR Donnelley Founders Cup. The meeting got Salas off to a good start to her year as she went on to tie for 22nd. She's looking for an even better finish this week.