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Salas surprise co-leader of U.S. Women's Open

Lizette Salas watches her tee shot on the

Lizette Salas watches her tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2012 U.S. Women's Open. (July 5, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

KOHLER, Wis. -- What kind of a U.S. Open would this be without an Only in America story? The honor Thursday, in the first round of the U.S. Women's Open, went to Lizette Salas, who was able to take up golf only because her father, a mechanic, offered to do odd jobs for the head pro in exchange for lessons.

The mechanic, a Mexican immigrant, was at Blackwolf Run Thursday along with his wife and granddaughter to watch his 22-year-old daughter, a first-year LPGA pro, shoot 3-under par 69 and have a share of first place with Brittany Lincicome and Cristie Kerr. The golfer, her dad and niece arrived here in her father's 2006 Toyota Tacoma truck, which took a cross-country tour when she was on the Symetra Tour last year (her mom flew in later). "I often slept in it," Salas said.

"Now being on top of the leaderboard of the U.S. Women's Open is just surreal," she said.

All this happened because Ramon Salas worked at the Azusa (Calif.) Greens Golf Course, liked what he saw but couldn't afford to get his kids involved in golf. He promised to work on the car of pro Jerry Herrera as a way of paying for the instruction. "I've just been swinging ever since. Haven't stopped," Lizette Salas said.

Salas earned her LPGA Tour card, fittingly, the hard way. She birdied the final hole of regulation to get into a nine-way playoff, then made three birdies to win. That was after she was California state high school champion, playing on the boys team, after she was a four-time All-America at USC, after she was the first in her family to get a degree.

"She doesn't come from the same background as a lot of the kids that I recruit," said USC coach Andrea Gaston, who recently got a commitment from Annie Park of Levittown's MacArthur High. "To see somebody who came from a family that wasn't given anything, and to see her fight and take the opportunity . . . To me, it was an extraordinary amount of pressure and she showed that she could handle it."

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