Emerges from Sally’s shadow
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.