Lee-Anne going at full Pace
Becomes second golfing champion from Mossel Bay this year
LEE-ANNE PACE stunned herself and the golfing world by becoming the first South African women to top the ladies European Order of Merit for 2010.
The 29-year-old, who turned professional in 2005, ended four barren years on tour with five victories in five months to head the Henderson Money List.
She then fended off an expectant challenge from nearest rival and five-time money list winner Laura Davies (who needed a toptwo finish to deny her at the season-ending Dubai Ladies Masters) to clinch top spot and 367 000 for the season.
Pace was was also honoured by her peers as the Players’ Player of the Year.
Now back home in Mossel Bay for a well-earned month rest with family, Pace will return to action in January when she tees it up at the AZ Masters in Australia.
Pace’s amazing year may just be the beginning of greater things to come. Topping the money list has earned her a 10-year exemption on European Tour but, more importantly, she has gained automatic entry into the four Majors on the LPGA Tour. Her best previous finish at a Major came this year when she tied for 21st at the Women’s British Open.
Pace’s road to success has been hard-earned. Having enjoyed a fairly successful amateur career in South Africa, that saw her representing her country at two World Amateur championships (2002/4), she went over to the US to study at Murray State and Tulsa universities.
She would go on to win the 2003 Ohio Valley Conference Championship and two years later capture the Western Athletic Conference Championship.
She tur ned professional in 2005 on the second-tier US Duramed Futures Tour, where she gained three top-10 finishes. This gave her the self-belief she was looking for, and in 2007 she made it through qualifying school to win ‘conditional’ exemption on the LPGA Tour. Only able to compete in a limited amount of tournaments, she lost her playing privileges.
Pace switched tours and made it onto the European Tour via qualifying school. Once again she lost her card, but in 2008 she began to find her feet. After finishing 64th on the money list, she climbed to 21st in 2009 before setting the world alight in 2010.
I still can’t belief what I’ve managed to achieve in 2010. Yes, golf did come to me by accident, but thanks to my dad, Francois, who got me hitting balls at around 14, and to the club pro who spotted me, so began my career.
I was 18, but I don’t remember the tournament.
I had eight years of playing locally, was doing well in the events I entered and was able to get my handicap down pretty quickly. I think it was only a few years before I was selected to play for my country. I played in two World Amateur Championships.
A massive role! Had I stayed in SA, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Attending universities where golf is serious business toughened me up as collegiate golf competition is of a high standard. I was competing against the top 50 amateurs and holding my own.
When you are able to mix it with fine young amateurs, and hold your own, you are given a tremendous inward boost and this helps in defining your thinking about trying to qualify for a pro card. I spend time on the second-tier Duramed Tour and managed three top-10 finishes, further instilling in me that turning pro might actually work out.
I was nervous but did well and got my playing privileges for a limited amount of events on the LPGA Tour in 2007. I did alright, but fewer events meant I was always going to struggle to hold on to my card for 2008. That’s what happened, but I never lost the faith and decided to try my luck on the European Tour. I went to q-school again and came through nicely. But I had a tough time of things and lost my card again.
I was a lot more mature mentally which is vital at the highest level of the game to be successful. I came close in a few events and do enough to make a go of it in 2009. I ended up again getting high up on the leaderboard but still wasn’t able to break through and win. So what turned it around in 2010?
I made, on the advice of my coaches, James Petts (who helps me in Europe) and Val Holland (here in SA), a couple of changes to my golf swing…. now I’m hitting the ball further and straighter and more often to where I want it to go. I’m now able to hit more greens in regulation and, with the putter working well, in contention to win a title.
After two solid first rounds, I find that I’m only a couple of shots off the pace. In my third and final round, I make a couple of birdies and the next thing I know is that I’ve won my first title. I could not believe it; five years of toiling had been ended and I was on top of the world.
It’s unbelievable to explain. It was now a situation where I found myself in contention against my rivals who hadn’t won yet. I was a lot calmer about my game and things happening around me which played a big part in winning more titles. Winning back to back in China was special for me. I knew I had to come up with something special if I was to end on top of the money list.
My goal is to improve on my game. If I want to be successful on the LPGA Tour, I have to improve my driving distance as the courses in the US are a lot longer than they are in Europe. Obviously my aim is to get my world ranking down from its current 56th. And I want to target the majors. That would be the crowning glory for me.
We’re both members at Mossel Bay Golf Club, so yes I’ve played a few rounds with him.
I don’t know him all that well, but what he has been able to achieve is something that I aspire to one day.
SA’S EURO GIRL: Lee-Anne Pace celebrates topping the Order of Merit of the Ladies European Tour in Dubai last weekend.