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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Salas Effect

Brittany Lang, Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Brooke Pancake, Lizette Salas,
& Jennifer Song ready for the Women's Health Classic Pro-Am at Stony Point.
The Self Regional Healthcare Foundation Women's Health Classic is in full swing at The Links at Stoney Point even though the tournament action is still three days away.  The topiaries that will reappear at the Festival of Flowers in about 6 weeks are artfully placed around the clubhouse, the leaderboard is up and waiting to record the action on the course, the spectator seating is where it needs to be, and the months of planning and hard work are behind Jim and Denise Medford.  Show time started at 7:30am Monday morning with the first of three Pro-Am events.

Over the past six months I've lobbied heavily for the opportunity to play in the Women's Health Classic Pro-Am.  It started out as a bucket list thing.  I'd watched enviously from the wrong side of the television screen while Condoleezza Rice played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  I wanted that experience for myself, to play a round of golf with the pros.

When I finally managed to successfully nag and lobby my way into the Pro-Am I was immediately seized by sheer terror.  How would I measure up?  All my golf frailties would be put on public display.  People would point and laugh.

I shared my secret anxieties with Alex Casi, the resident pro at Ladies Dream Golf (the only fantasy golf site devoted to the LPGA).  Alex put my fears and anxieties in perspective.
We've seen everything . . . Just go out there and enjoy yourself . . . It's all about having fun . . .
Still, driving out to Stoney Point on Monday morning all those fears and doubts began to bubble back up to my mental surface.  I was running late -- a chronic problem -- and then when I got parked and had my clubs on the right cart I got preoccupied with gawking at the likes of Nancy Lopez and Brittany Lincicome and I didn't have time to even roll a few putts, let alone go through my usual warm-up routine.

I felt stiff and awkward when I stepped up to the first tee.  As my foursome played our first and then second holes my balls were rolling instead of flying.  I was swinging too fast, trying too hard.  I'd forgotten Alex's advice.  I wasn't relaxed and I wasn't having fun.
Jennifer Song's shoes

Then my foursome pulled up to the 4th hole, the first of four par-3s.  LPGA pros were stationed at the par-3s, hitting shots and helping us line up our putts.  Lizette Salas and Jennifer Song were waiting for us.

The group playing in front of us was still on the green.  We had a wait.  We laughed.  We chatted.  I took a picture of Song's shoes, which were fairly amazing.  I felt Lizette Salas's vitality -- it surrounded her like an aura.

It's one thing to watch somebody play golf from a distance.  It's another thing entirely to stand next to that person and watch her swing her club with such grace and ease that the club seems like an extension of her body.  Standing there, I felt as though I was being drawn in to Lizette's energy field.

Lizette Salas and Me,
getting a dose of The Salas Effect
My foursome played the hole and moved on to the 5th -- that hole with the pond off to the left that occasionally acts like a magnet and sucks my ball off its straight flight.  I always depend on the aiming stick up on the hill beyond the pond to set up my tee shot on number 5, but the aiming stick was gone.  Pros don't use aiming sticks and Stoney Point was set up for a pro tournament.

I was getting what I'd said wanted, a chance to play with the pros, and I was going to have to set up my drive like a big girl.  I stood on the tee box, looked out over the fairway and thought about Lizette Salas.  I called up the vision of her swing.  And then I hit the ball, pure.  It sprang off my club face, soared past the pond without even a sideways wobble, flew well beyond where that silly aiming stick used to be, and settled down right in the middle of the short grass.

The Salas Effect!  I grabbed it and held on to it.  I did it again on the 6th hole, that par-5 with that pesky fairway bunker that, like the pond, can reach out and snag my ball, but not today, not this time.  My drives were being fueled by The Salas Effect!

Brittany Lang, Me & Jessica Wallace
For me, that wait on the 4th hole had engendered a seismic shift in attitude.  I'd stopped fretting about what others might be thinking about me and my golf game.  I simply turned lose and started swinging the club.

Jessica Wallace, the young Symnetra Tour pro in our foursome -- Donette and I privately referred to her as The Kid in the confines of our cart -- kept reinforcing the Salas Effect.  If you had been listening to Jess's running commentary of our round you'd have concluded that none of us ever made a bad shot.  A short shot was on line, never mind that it was hit fat or thin.  A missed putt was a lesson learned -- about speed or break.

I'd wanted to play in a Pro-Am event -- any Pro-Am would do, I thought -- because I wanted to rub shoulders with some professional golfers.  Reflecting back, that was a flimsy motive.  I took away so much more from the experience.

The Salas Effect isn't about technique.  Frankly, I didn't learn a thing about grip or stance or wrist cocking or AimPoint or setting up a chip.  I'm still the same little old lady golfer that I was when I teed it up with the pros Monday morning, with the same physical limitations, the same equipment, and the same flawed technical skill set.  

What I did learn is that in golf as in life attitude trumps skill.  Start positive and stay positive.  There's a lesson in every shot I make and it's up to me to vanquish all the emotional static that gets in the way of capitalizing on that lesson and taking it into the next shot.

That said, I have to tell you that my Monday with the pros was exhilarating and I'm looking forward to watching 72 holes of tournament-level golf up close and personal.  Come on out to Stoney Point and join me: follow this link for the week's schedule of events.  I'll be the volunteer Marshall on the 2nd hole.