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15th July 2016 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Reto within striking distance in Ohio

SLT_PaulaReto_1On the very day that Paula Reto was named to the 2016 South African Olympic Team heading to Rio in August, the Strand native justified her selection with a strong opening performance in the LPGA Tour’s Marathon Classic in Ohio.

Reto bookended a superb 68 with birdies at the opening and closing holes at the Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania to grab a share of seventh. She shares the bus at three under with eight players, including world number one Lydia Ko and number two ranked Brooke Henderson.

The group finished two shots off the pace from Japan’s Haro Nomura and South Korean pair Hyo Joo Kim and Mirim Lee.

American Kelly Shon, France’s Celine Herbin and Airiya Juranugarn from Thailand – a three-time winner this season – sit a shot back at four under.

A promising track sprinter and field hockey player, Reto dreamt of the Olympics as a young teen, but golf was never in that equation.

“I made the SA U-18 team back in 2004 and trained with the Under-21 team that was heading to the Olympics, so field hockey always seemed a possibility,” Reto said.

But when the Reto family moved to Coral Springs in Florida when her father changed jobs, field hockey fad took a back seat to golf.

“I had a one-hour commute to Miami to compete on a local team there and it just became too much of a struggle,” she said. “My dad was a social golfer and he suggested I try golf. I was 15 when I switched to golf. I was the worst player on the Florida Junior Tour when I started, but I just kept practicing because I knew golf could take me to college and beyond.”

Reto soon found her stride and earned a scholarship to Purdue University. She was only the third Boilermaker to earn All-American honours and after her graduation, she campaigned on the Symetra Tour for six months before she earned her card for the 2014 LPGA Tour card at Q-School.

Now an Olympic debut is waiting for the third-season pro and she couldn’t be more proud to line up with Ashleigh Simon in the Women’s Competition in Brazil from August 17-20.

“Ashleigh represented South Africa in a lot of events as an amateur, but I never had that opportunity, so I am super excited to go to Rio,” Reto said.

Reto plans to take in the full scope of the Games, hoping to travel to watch the Opening Ceremonies the first week of August and practicing at the venue with team mate Ashleigh Simon.

“It’s my first time at the Olympics and I want to take it all in,” Reto said. “I plan to watch a lot of events, including our men (Jaco van Zyl and Brandon Stone) and I hope to meet a lot of athletes,” she said.

“I had to withdraw from the US Women’s Open due to a back injury, but I am fighting fit again and my schedule is crammed in before we leave for Rio. That’s something I’ve got to do.”

Simon offset a pair of bogeys with a lone birdie at the 18th for a 72, while rookie Bertine Strauss mixed four bogeys and a double bogey at 11 with a birdie at 13 for an opening 76.

PHOTO – Paula Reto; credit Getty Images.