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Paula Reto and her caddie Abimbola Olakanye. Picture: SUPPLIED
Paula Reto and her caddie Abimbola Olakanye. Picture: SUPPLIED

Chat to Paula Reto and she quickly comes across as your all-American girl next door.           

Thing is, she’s the next real deal in SA women’s golf after winning the CP Women’s Open late last month.        

There she shot a tournament-and-course record 62 in her opening round before going on to finish 10-under and right on top in Ottawa. That made her only the fourth SA woman to win on the LPGA, behind Sally Little, Lee-Anne Pace and then earlier this year, Ashleigh Buhai.

Originally from a school athletics and hockey background in Strand in the Western Cape, the Reto (father Tony is originally from Portugal) family relocated to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the US when she was a young teenager.

But despite now having US citizenship her loyalty lies firmly back in SA. “I’m always going to consider myself SA, being born there, having proudly represented Team SA at the Rio Olympics [she finished joint 16th] and also, all my childhood memories are from SA,” she says.

“I have relatives dotted all around SA and come back and visit them whenever I get a chance. I definitely want to come back to defend the SuperSport title I won at Sun City in February.”

Plucked from relative obscurity by Purdue University after taking up golf relatively late, she was given a full golf scholarship and her game grew from strength to strength. “I was working at a local golf course and the Purdue coach saw me on the range, and liked what he saw, despite me being a relative nobody.”

Now, 157 tournament starts later and nine years on the LPGA tour, she’s won her first professional tournament. But her roots remain grounded in humbleness. “I was so excited and happy to enjoy the win now, a few weeks later... and sure, the win makes me feel happy and more confident but I know I’m always going to be the same Paula.”

Unlike elephants, Reto reckons it helps to have a short “golf memory” to keep grounded. “That way, if you have downs, you forget and move on quickly. On the flipside, if you have a good tournament it’s worth taking a breath and realising that you have to start all over from scratch the next week.”

Mention of elephants brings her thoughts back to her home continent. “My caddy, Abimbola Olakanye, is from Nigeria so it’s great to have the continental thing going,” she laughs.

“I know I’ve got a lot to work on in terms of playing on different grasses and in different atmospheres but I’m always looking to improve.”

One thing that improved substantially was her bank account after it was boosted to the tune of $352,500 (that’s just over R6m) in Canada.

“You know, I’m very disciplined when it comes to money. I want to save as much as I can and be able get things in the future. But if I’ve had a nice win then I’ll buy myself something small like a handbag, some jewellery or a perfume.

“What really makes me happy is to spoil my family ... so we’ll go out for some nice dinners, or sometimes go back to SA for a trip and I’ll pay for that. But I’m not one to just give away my money.”

Even away from the course her lifestyle is similar to her sporting ways. “I like to eat healthily, especially after I was really battling with fatigue due to an autoimmune disorder. I’ve been on an anti-inflammatory diet since early 2018 which is giving me so, so much more energy. So these days there’s no alcohol ... no sugar apart from the very occasional chocolate or ice-cream, no red meat, a really very lean diet

“Trying different coffees is one of my fun things. Right now I’m in Portland, Oregon, trying out a local coffee at the Lionheart Cafe ahead of this weekend’s Portland Classic tournament.

“But when I’m at home, we’ll go to the beach, play some golf with my dad, or mess around with my two dachshund dogs, Putter [what else?] and Tucker. I don’t mess around with too many other sports because I can’t risk getting injured and not being able to play golf.”

Almost 10 years of pro golf under her belt and she’s got no hesitation naming a course she could play day after day: Ko’ Olina in Hawaii. “I just love being there, it’s always windy but every day differs in terms of strength and direction so it helps my ‘wind-game’ incredibly.”

Most difficult course? “Oh my word, the Sahalee Country Club in Seattle. We played it about five to six years ago ... it’s totally tree-lined and totally stressed me out. A beautiful set-up, but wow I found it tough.”

As a person rather than a golfer, Reto takes a few seconds to reflect. “I’m fiercely independent ... my friend’s say I’m a bit bossy but in a good way. I like to think I suggest things instead of being straight-forward. 

“But one thing that really drives me mad is people touching my things. I like to know exactly where my things are. So if someone puts my sunglasses in the wrong spot, I think I’m going mad!”

Wrong spot? After her Canadian cash-in she’s in the sweetest of spots, both on and off the course.

“I’m just going to carry on making people smile and feel good.”

Reto ... right now has made SA’s sports-mad population feel good, very good!

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