KPMG Women's PGA Championship leader Lizette Salas has spoken out about her mental health struggle during the pandemic.
The 31-year-old compiled a bogey-free five under 67 opening round in tough conditions at Atlanta Athletic Club in Georgia on Thursday to lead by one shot from England's Charley Hull.
Hannah Green was the best of the Australian contingent tied 29th after an even par 72, followed by Minjee Lee and Su Oh with 73s, Gabriela Ruffels (76) then Katherine Kiirk and Sarah Kemp on 78s.
Salas later spoke for the first time of the heavy toll the pandemic had taken on her emotionally.
"I really didn't like myself in 2020, and I think with the whole COVID and not being able to work and have golf as my outlet, that really hit hard," Salas said.
"I had to take care of my mental health, and that's something that a lot of people don't really take into consideration." Lizette Salas.
A Mexican-American with a hardscrabble road to the LPGA Tour, she attributes her stubbornness to talk about such matters to her Hispanic background.
"It was hard for me to even speak about it just because I felt like other people are going through the same thing. Why do I need to feel sorry for myself?" she said. "Over time, it accumulated and got worse, and when I finally got out here, it was just ... so bad that the golf couldn't help."
Salas spoke on days getting darker before it got light, and her turning point a month ago at the Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill, site of her lone LPGA Tour victory in 2014. Her caddie from that win, John Killeen, is back on the bag. There were positive memories, good vibes.
She ended 18 straight tournaments of pedestrian play with a tie for fifth, added another top-10 last week in Michigan and is trending.
"That just lit a spark in me," Salas said.
"I had to take care of my mental health, and that's something that a lot of people don't really take into consideration.
"I just understand myself more, and I'm at a point where I like myself again, even when days aren't as good as others. It's been a quite a roller coaster of emotions," she added. "Here I am, and I'm playing much better. Just happy to be here."
Nelly Korda, who last week became the first two-time winner on this LPGA Tour season of parity, was among those at 70 after making a long birdie putt on the 18th.
Inbee Park, the seven-time major champion and Olympic gold medallist, played better than her score of 71, all because of one hole where she took triple bogey after an errant shot due to mud on her ball.
U.S. Women's Open champion Yuka Saso and Lexi Thompson, whose back-nine collapse at Olympic Club three weeks ago cost her the Women's Open, played with Park. Each shot 73.