"Dreams can come true" - YOC Ambassador Lizette Salas - Youth on Course

“Dreams can come true” – YOC Ambassador Lizette Salas

It’s not your traditional story, how I got to be here.

Neither of my parents play a lot of golf, and they definitely didn’t belong to a private club. They came to the United States from Mexico in the 1970s, in search of better opportunities. My dad got a job as a mechanic at Azusa Greens Country Club, where he became friends with the head pro.

I didn’t even know we had a golf course in our town until my dad asked if I wanted to come to work with him one day. I was the youngest of three and always looking to spend more time with him. He found a club and let me take a few swings on the range. I must have hit it pretty well, because the pro came over and asked dad if I wanted lessons. 

We didn’t have the money for that. But, pretty soon, the lessons started anyway. The first one, when I showed up in jean shorts and flip flops, was about how to dress properly for golf and the learning continued from there. I found out later that my dad had been doing odd jobs around the course for the pro in exchange for those lessons every Saturday.

Those Saturdays grew into something more than just a way to spend a weekend outside. They turned into a passion for the game, and a dedication to prove myself to everyone around me.

Where I come from, people don’t expect much of a young Latina. Plenty of people, even a few in my own family, would tell me that “Mexicans don’t play golf”. Well, they do now.

Those people didn’t understand the opportunities that golf can give to a female athlete. Hopefully I can help to pave the way so younger generations never have to hear that. Every year that I’m out on Tour, the more I prove that we belong.

I was lucky enough to have parents who continued to push me, continued to tell me that I was good enough and that I belonged out there. Because of that support, my dreams got brighter and brighter. We didn’t have a girls golf team at my high school, so I joined the boys team. And beat them. I knew I was on my game when the boys wouldn’t talk to me because I’d beaten them again.

More and more, people took notice of what I was doing. I made the decision to go to USC, which was frightening because no one in my family had gone to a four-year university before. I made a promise to my family that I would graduate to show my niece Natalie, and my nephews Joseph and Derek, that it doesn’t matter where you come from. Dreams can come true if you work hard and have faith in yourself.

That doesn’t mean that it all comes easy. I’ve had my share of challenges ever since turning pro – after, of course, I kept that promise and graduated as a national champion and four-time All-American. 

The last two years especially have shown the importance of golf in my life. When the coronavirus pandemic first hit in 2020, restrictions in California meant I couldn’t play anymore. I had family close by, but not having the outlet of getting out on the course took its toll on me.

Talking about mental health is hard to do, especially coming from my background. It can be hard to ask, but we all need a little help sometimes. I’m fortunate to have people around me who understand the value of providing that support.

While I was at school, my dad and the head pro who gave me my first lessons started up their own foundation for kids in the area. They don’t just give golf lessons, but also bring in tutors and provide that support network so that the kids can continue to grow and find the same opportunities that I did through the game.

I hope that the future of golf represents accessibility to everyone, regardless of financial status or race or gender. That’s why I’m proud to join up with Youth on Course as an Ambassador. We’ll work together to provide even more kids across the country with affordable access to the game that has opened so many doors for me. More than just providing $5 rounds of golf, they also provide work and leadership opportunities through internships and caddie programs.

Youth on Course has also awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to over 300 students – and many of them, like me, will be the first ones in their families to go to a four-year university. Change doesn’t happen immediately, but opening doors for kids and eliminating some of the challenges they face growing up does a world of good. Through our work, together, we’ll help make them not only better golfers but better people.