A successful pairing under the Solheim Cup spotlight, Lizette Salas and Angel Yin made for an entertaining duo with the mic on Monday.
The LPGA Tour pros provided an engaging start to Lotte Championship week at Ko Olina Golf Club in sharing some of their experiences and expertise at the Ladies First Clinic in advance of the tournament.
“My role model,” the 19-year-old Yin told the gathering at the Ko Olina driving range when Salas was introduced.
“You make me sound old,” replied Salas, still just 28 and in her seventh year on tour.
Salas knew of Yin as a promising 11-year-old junior golfer in Southern California and they still live about 20 minutes apart. But it wasn’t until Solheim Cup captain Juli Inkster paired them last August that they truly bonded.
“I think Solheim sparked our friendship,” Salas said after the clinic, “and she’s great for the tour and definitely keeps me on my toes.”
While some in the audience were aware of Yin’s booming drives (she ranked fourth in driving distance at 272 yards last year), she also showed off a playful wit during a varied Q-and-A that included her thoughts on:
Club types (with tongue in cheek and her sponsors in mind): “I have five brands in this bag. Any of those five, you use.”
Swing thoughts: “You hit the ball, cross your fingers and hope it’s good.”
How she generates distance: “Milk.”
They also addressed controlling their ball flight in the wind, which figures to be a key once the tournament tees off on Wednesday, especially if Monday’s breezy conditions hold up.
Salas has managed Ko Olina’s winds well enough to post nine rounds in the 60s in five previous Lotte appearances, including three last year to tie for 11th at 11 under. Her 62 in the final round in 2013 remains tied for her career low.
“I think my game just fits the course very well,” said Salas, who tied for second at the Kia Classic in March and enters the week ranked 24th in the world.
“It’s a good fresh start for me and I love playing in windy conditions. My first couple years out here I kind of freaked out whenever it got windy. But now I just embrace it, I just play with it, I don’t ever fight it. I realize the entire field has to compete in it and I’ve had some good success.”
Yin turned pro at 17 and posted five top-10 finishes last season on her way to finishing second in the rookie of the year standings behind Sung Hyun Park.
“I’m not mad at her. Just a little angry,” she joked as Park practiced farther down the range.
She was among Inkster’s captain’s picks for the U.S. Solheim Cup team and partnered with Salas to go 1-1 in their fourball matches. Yin halved her Sunday singles match and Salas clinched the decisive point for the U.S.
Yin said the Solheim experience provided momentum into her first professional win in December at the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic on the Ladies European Tour.
“(Inkster) gave me the opportunity to be able to experience that kind of crowd, that kind of vibe,” Yin said.
“Dealing with adrenaline, I think that really helped. I had so much adrenaline … on the first hole I hit a 52 degree (wedge) 130 yards.”
Yin’s wedge game admittedly wasn’t sharp when she missed the cut in her Lotte debut last year and returns to Ko Olina with redemption in mind.
“I’ve improved my short game, my wedge control, so I’m looking forward to this year,” she said. “I kind of came here to redeem myself because with my distance, this course shouldn’t be as hard as I played it last year. I missed the cut and I was down about that because I had so much opportunity.”
Yin and Salas hope their fortunes this week follow the path of Cristie Kerr, who spoke at last year’s clinic before breaking the Lotte scoring record at 20 under in a three-shot victory.
Michelle Wie, the 2014 Lotte champion, returns home ranked 13th in the world, boosted by her win at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore in early March.
The field also features four of the top five players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings — led by No. 1 Shanshan Feng — and 15 of the top 20. Pernilla Lindberg made the trip after winning the season’s first major with a playoff victory over former No. 1 Inbee Park at the ANA Inspiration on April 2.
Joining Kerr and Wie as past champions in the tournament are Sei Young Kim (2015) and Minjee Lee (2016).