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LPGA Patti Rizzo's return to golf not strong until Friday's play



Published: Sat, July 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Fort Lauderdale, Fla. resident failed to make the cut in seven previous tournaments.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

VIENNA -- Welcome back, Patti Rizzo.

In retirement for nearly three years caring for her two children, Rizzo returned to golf this year.

"I was really burned out," Rizzo said. "I was playing 40 tournaments a year for 12 years. I got married and had kids. I said, 'That's it, I quit.' I became a mother."

It wasn't until last December that Rizzo, through the inspiration of a friend, began contemplating a comeback.

"She said, 'You have too much game to be doing nothing,' " said Rizzo, 42, a resident of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Rizzo began to believe again.

Shoots 68

After seven tournaments this season in which she has failed to make the cut, Rizzo shot a 4-under-par 68 Friday in the first round of the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic at Squaw Creek Country Club.

She and seven other golfers -- Jackie Gallagher-Smith, Beth Daniel, Tina Barrett, Maria Hjorth, Janice Moodie, Lisa Kiggens and Stefania Croce -- are four strokes off the lead.

"Finally," said Rizzo, who shot only her second round of the season under par. "The last couple of practices, everything seems to be coming together."

Being away from the game for so long, Rizzo recognizes her need for patience.

"I came out not having high expectations," she said. "I just wanted to come out and pace myself."

A strong round doesn't surprise Rizzo. She knows success on the LPGA tour is based on shooting those type of rounds consistently.

"It's step by step right now" trying to find her game, Rizzo said. "It could be next year or this week."

Over the years, Rizzo has realized the importance of one's short game, but a putting slump to begin the year set her back.

"My putting was horrendous to start the year," she said.

Rizzo even suffered a six-putt.

Fought demons

"It was just a nightmare," Rizzo said. "I just killed my putting confidence. But I wasn't going to let it defeat me, no matter what. I fought the putting demons."

Rizzo regained some of her putting confidence in the past couple of weeks and used the club well Friday.

"The way you make money out here is from 100 yards and in," she said.

While away from the game, Rizzo gained "a good picture on everything in life."

She realized the importance of caring for her kids, Gabriela (age 5) and Seve (7). She realized that many other jobs involve laboring through traffic, working long hours and being stuck in an office with no end in sight.

"I saw how much nicer it can be walking a golf course," she said.

Now that she has returned, Rizzo is enjoying every moment.

"This is where I'm supposed to be now," she said. "Everything seems to be falling into place. I just hope it keeps going."

richesson@vindy.com




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