Emerges from Sally’s shadow

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 12/ 14 -

Emerg­ing from the shadow of Sally Lit­tle.

SALLY LIT­TLE WON 15 times on the LPGA Tour in an il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, but who would have thought it would take 26 years be­tween Lit­tle’s last vic­tory and another South African break­ing through on the women’s tour.

Lee-Anne Pace, who has been our best fe­male prospect since Lit­tle’s era, claimed the Blue Bay LPGA ti­tle on Hainan Is­land in China (rounds of 67-66-67). The his­toric achieve­ment was worth $300 000 and moved her into the top 30 of the world rank­ings.

The 33-year-old Pace was born in 1981, when Lit­tle was at the peak of her form in Amer­ica. After win­ning her first ma­jor, the LPGA Cham­pi­onship, in 1980, Lit­tle went on to cap­ture another four ti­tles in the next 12 months. Her fi­nal vic­tory in 1988 was also a ma­jor, the Du Mau­rier Clas­sic.

Pace, who a week ear­lier had won her first SA Women’s Open at San Lameer (she was run­ner-up in 2012 to Ger­many’s Caro­line Mas­son, the player she beat in China), hopes her lat­est vic­tory will in­spire a new wave of fe­male cham­pi­ons from South Africa and boost the women’s game here.

“This is huge for me, but I think this could be pretty big for the girls back home,” she said. “I hope this will in­spire more girls to take up the sport and at­tract more spon­sors so we can grow the Sun­shine Ladies Tour.”

The suc­cess of the Cell C SA Women’s Open, which be­came part of the Ladies Euro­pean Tour in 2012, has re­sulted in an ex­ten­sion of the tour­na­ment un­til 2021. This year’s had the best fin­ish yet, with Pace com­ing from four shots back in the fi­nal round to tie Eng­land’s Holly Cly­burn and then beat her in a play­off. Her clos­ing 67 in­cluded an ea­gle three on San Lameer’s 13th hole – she boldly went for the is­land green with a 5-wood ap­proach shot – and was fol­lowed by birdies at 16 and 18. Pace then came up with another birdie at 18 in the sec­ond play­off hole.

“Win­ning the SA Open was a dream for me since I turned pro, and I’m re­ally pleased that I took the time to re­turn home from Asia and com­pete in it,” said Pace. “Now that I’ve done it, I un­der­stand why play­ers al­ways say there is some­thing in­de­scrib­ably spe­cial about win­ning your na­tional open.”

Pace has now won nine times on the Ladies Euro­pean Tour, and she was joined as a South African LET win­ner in 2014 by promis­ing 21-year-old Con­nie Chen, who won the Tener­ife Open (and €52 500) in Septem­ber.

Two no­table vic­to­ries, one at home and the other in China.

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