More confident Lizette Salas makes a move

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Lizette Salas stands just one shot behind the leader after a 4-under 68 Friday and is the top American on the board.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. -- Last year, Lizette Salas was an accomplished four-time All-American out of Southern Cal but a nervous LPGA rookie.

On Wednesday, Salas hobnobbed with Oscar de la Hoya in the Kraft Nabisco pro-am, and on Friday, she shot a 4-under 68 in the LPGA’s first major of the year to take a 6-under 138 into the weekend, one shot behind leader Inbee Park.

“I’m more comfortable in my own skin, I’m not intimidated of anything now,” said Salas, 23, the only American among the top 11 golfers here. “Last year I was just really nervous, really scared of every shot I hit. Now I’m just much more confident, and these last three weeks in contention, that has been a boost of confidence.

“What I think about is that I have nothing to lose out here. I’m not supposed to be out here but (for) my story.”

Her “story” is becoming a familiar one. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she learned the game after her father, the mechanic at the Azusa (Calif.) Greens public course, exchanged handyman work for the head pro for golf lessons.

“So I started at age 7 and did not know how to dress, barely had a full set of golf clubs and got my first pair of shoes at the age of 9,” Salas said. “And it has been a roller-coaster from that point on.”

Salas fired five birdies and had one bogey in the second round Friday, continuing a roll this year in which she has had three top 10 finishes in five tournaments, and a sixth-, fourth- and 13th in her last three events.

Salas said minimizing mistakes “to where I can still hit the green and not be in trouble” has been the biggest difference from last year. Well, that, and playing with one of her heroes.

“[De la Hoya] was telling me, ‘Go for it, go with your gut feeling,’ ” said Salas, who also gets regular advice from LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.

“I feel like I can bring another crowd to the LPGA,” Salas said, “and just like Nancy and Lorena [Ochoa] did for me, I do see a lot of younger girls in general following the LPGA, which is what the LPGA is [supposed to do], bring more children and more females into the game of golf. “