• Moving at speed

    Moving at speed

    Paula Reto walks quickly, plays quickly and talks quickly. The South African has risen quickly, but she is still in a hurry, writes Lali Stander.

    The reason for Reto’s rush is quite simple: The 2016 Olympics and having the support of South Africa behind her when she marches around the Maracana Stadium at the opening ceremony in Rio on 5 August. For Reto will be joining Grand Slam champion Gary Player and LPGA Tour winner Lee-Anne Pace when golf makes its return to the Olympics this year.

    Pace vaulted 21 spots to 32nd in the Rolex Ranking after a runner-up finish in April’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and Reto desperately want to close the gap between her and Pace before the duo set off for Brazil.

    ‘I am just inside the top 120 and I would love to break into the top 100 before August. The closer you get to the top 100, the tougher it gets, but it is important to me to try. I only took up golf at 16, so I never played golf when we lived in South Africa.

    ‘I never represented my country and I only competed once as a pro back home. I understand why the majority of South African golf fans don’t know me, but I am 100% South African all the way.

    ‘I don’t want people asking “who’s that girl”; I want them to sit up, take notice and remember me after the Olympics. I am proudly South African, from the flags on my shoes and my bag all the way to my accent, and I can’t wait to let the whole world know.’

    Your dad, Tony, relocated the family to Fort Lauderdale in 2005. While your three siblings adjusted quickly, you didn’t have the same athletic outlet at Taravella High School, but then golf entered the picture. Tell us more.

    I used to play field hockey and run track when we lived in the Strand, but since they didn’t offer hockey at Taravella, I tried to start a team. I didn’t have much success and I was frustrated. One day my dad suggested I give golf a go, so I started playing it in my freshman year. I loved it so much that I dropped out of track. When I learned that I could go to college with my golf, I really got stuck in and I managed to earn a scholarship to Purdue University.

    So, you were 16 when you started and five years later, you leave Purdue with a degree in law and society, and All-American honours. What were your other highlights?

    I made All Big 10 Conference selection three times and received the Mary Fossum Award in 2013 for having the lowest stroke average in the Big Ten Conference. I also finished third in the 2013 NCAA Championships. I am really proud of winning the Dixie Amateur Championship back-to-back in 2010 and 2011. It’s a prestigious amateur event and it is played in my home town, and I was the first player [and only] to successfully defend my title.

    In June 2013 you turned pro on the Symetra Tour and in 2016 you tied for 18th in the ANA Inspiration to record your best Major result. A year ago, you were ranked 179th. How do the first two seasons compare to where you are now?

    I somehow got through the rookie year and finished 88th on the money list last season, but the first two years were a bit of a challenge. I had to learn how to deal with life on tour – how to travel, what to pack, how to get around – and it was tough to get to know the courses we played when you only have a couple of days to prepare. With all this on my mind, I was trying to improve my game too. I embraced every moment and learned a lot each day. The best experience I gained was when I shot 64 in Alabama and finished third. I can’t wait to put myself in more of those situations.

    You rank sixth in average driving distance, 18th in putting and 13th in putts per GIR. But you rank 96th in driving accuracy and 59th in greens in regulation.

    As terrible as those last two stats sound, I’ve made great strides and that’s what fires me up to keep pushing the envelope. Last year I only made eight cuts in 21 starts and I ranked 144th in driving accuracy and 146th in greens in regulation. My game has come on in leaps and bounds and I can measure the improvement in my accuracy and course management. It definitely helps to know what to expect at the courses we play; I know where I can let it rip and where I need to be more cautious. I love playing on tour, travelling, playing different courses and meeting people. Every week is an adventure. I am better prepared mentally and physically but I also love the unpredictability of it. It can be challenging to stay positive when things are not going your way, but you have to persevere and remind yourself that you are better than your results suggest.

    Last year was a baptism of fire for you when you went to Scotland and France for the British Women’s Open and Evian Championship. How does heading to Rio compare?

    I was part of a group of players who visited the Olympic Museum in Switzerland before that Evian Championship. Standing in that building with all the history around me really brought home just what an incredible honour it is going to be to represent South Africa in the greatest sporting event in the world. I can’t wait to share in the spirit of the Games, to watch the world’s top athletes and to interact with athletes from other countries. I think living in the athletes’ village is going to be an unforgettable experience. I am a big fan of track and field, so I hope I will get the chance to go and watch the greats compete during Olympics.

    Although you haven’t competed on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, what do you think of its role in developing golf in this country?

    I have followed the Ladies Tour since it launched. It has opened the door to many upcoming golfers and it is helping them to learn to compete against top golfers and excel to levels such as LPGA and LET. I can see the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies becoming a big attraction and I hope to play some of the events next year. Just look how well the tour prepared Bertine Strauss. She is a great girl with an excellent swing and a lot of willpower, and it’s great to have her competing alongside myself and Lee-Anne on the LPGA Tour.

    What’s the funniest moment of your career?

    I forget at which tournament it happened, but I hit a terrible tee shot and my ball narrowly missed a very expensive car that was stationed in the water. I laughed all the way to the green!

    Most embarrassing moment?

    Oh, without question, the first shot of my LPGA Tour debut in 2014 when I shanked the ball in front of a full gallery of spectators.

    Describe yourself in five words and tell us what your legacy will be.

    I want people to remember me as a great golfer and a nice person who was friendly, caring, helpful, positive and highly competitive.

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