Lee-Anne go­ing at full Pace

Be­comes sec­ond golf­ing cham­pion from Mos­sel Bay this year

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - MIKE DE BRUYN

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.

GALLO IM­AGES

SA’S EURO GIRL: Lee-Anne Pace cel­e­brates top­ping the Or­der of Merit of the Ladies Euro­pean Tour in Dubai last week­end.

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