Lee Anne-Pace broke a 26-year LPGA Tour title drought for South Africa when she claimed a three stroke maiden victory in the rain-shortened Blue Bay LPGA in China on Monday and became only the second South African champion in LPGA Tour history after Sally Little. Two-time Major winner Little won 15 times between 1976 and 1988. The breakthrough will have major benefits for Pace, but the Sunshine Ladies Tour number one also hopes her victory will inspire a new wave champions from South Africa and go a long way in boosting the development of the women’s game at home.
“This is huge for me, but I think this could be pretty big for the girls back home. Now that we have the Sunshine Ladies Tour, I hope this will help create greater interest around the women’s game and inspire more girls to take up the sport. I think the interest in women’s golf in in South Africa is on the up and that already is a step in the right direction. Hopefully this will draw more sponsors and help increase the prize money, so we can grow the Sunshine Ladies Tour and also create more events for our up-and-coming players to gain competitive experience before they attempt to compete on the international circuit,” she said. Just seven days after the former Ladies European Tour number one lifted the Cell C SA Women’s Open at San Lameer Country Club, Pace grabbed a share of the 36-hole lead with rounds of 67 and 66 at the Jian Lake Blue Bay Course. The tournament was reduced to 54 holes due to the incessant torrential rain and the 33-year-old Pearl Valley golfer reeled in four birdies in a flawless display through 13 holes in the final round when play was called off due to darkness.
Pace, four strokes clear of US Women’s Open champion Michelle Wie, had another 90 minute wait to complete the round on Monday due to dangerous conditions that rendered the course unplayable, but she took the delay in her stride. “I had a long, leisurely breakfast and a lot of coffee. I felt confident, because I’ve been striking the ball incredibly well, so I just focused on getting ready for when play finally kicked off,” she said. She racked in four pars before boxing a six-footer for birdie at the 18th to close with a five-under-par 67. She finished at 16-under-par 200, three strokes clear of 2012 SA Women’s Open champion, Caroline Mason from Germany, and five ahead of Wie, who shot a final round 70, and joint 36-hole leader, Jessica Korda from the USA, who registered a 72.
The victory marked a third podium finish for Pace in China, following victories in the 2010 and 2013 Sanya Ladies Open on the Ladies European Tour. The 2015 Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies leader was absolutely ecstatic with the breakthrough, which also earned her a two-year exemption on the LPGA Tour. “I can’t actually believe it. I’m still so in the moment of one shot at a time that I think it’s going to hit me. It’s like literally now I can relax. It’s amazing. Obviously one of my life goals, not only on the golf course, but to do something like that very special,” said the reigning Investec Cup for Ladies champion.
Mason launched a late charge with four birdies in the last six holes, but Pace just kept her head down. “I saw that Caroline was making a move, but I just told myself that I was far ahead and to just keep at it. I hit some nice irons coming in and to finish with a birdie was an added bonus. It was really fantastic that SuperSport covered the last holes so all the South African supporters could share in my victory. This is a real career-changer for me,” she said.
Leading final round scores:
200 – Lee-Anne Pace (RSA) 67-66-67
203 – Caroline Masson (GER) 67-69-67
205 – Michelle Wie (USA) 67-68-70, Jessica Korda (USA) 66-67-72
206 – Danielle Kang (USA) 68-68-70, Chella Choi (KOR) 68-66-72
207 – Lydia Ko (NZL) 69-70-68, Feng Shanshan (CHN) 67-68-72
208 – Jenny Shin (KOR) 71-70-67, Brittany Lang (USA) 67-68-73
209 – Thidapa Suwannapura (THA) 70-72-67, Cristie Kerr (USA) 68-73-68, Dewi Claire Schreefel (NED) 68, 72, 69, Belen Mozo (ESP) 72-67-70, Mariajo Uribe (COL) 69-70-70, Austin Ernst (USA) 71-66-72
210 – Ilhee Lee (KOR) 73-68-69, Sandra Gal (GER) 70-71-69, Lu Wanyao (CHN) 69-68-73
Photo: Lee-Anne Pace
Photo credit: Justin Klusener.