South Africa’s top female golf export Lee-Anne Pace will headline the field in the 2015 South African Women’s Open on the Hibiscus Coast alongside Shawnelle De Lange, who shared the Jackie Mercer Trophy as the leading amateur with France’s Mathilda Cappeliez last year. The country’s flagship championship returns at San Lameer Country Club from 29 November to 1 December. Pace is in a confident mood and eager to defend the title she won in thrilling fashion last year.
The nine-time European Ladies Tour winner provided one of the most dramatic moments of the 2015 Sunshine Ladies Tour season when she defeated England’s Holly Clyburn in a play-off. Pace closed with a strong back nine that included an eagle and birdies at two of her final three holes to finish with a 67 to tie Clyburn on five under par. Pace then wowed the home crowds with two incredible shots into the 18th – the second hole of a sudden-death playoff – and birdied the hole to capture what the Pearl Valley player described as ‘a dream come true moment’.
It is no surprise, then, that she cannot wait to get her title defence up and running and hopefully start the 2016 Sunshine Ladies Tour season on a winning note. The double Investec Cup for Ladies champion says: ‘I am really looking forward to it. I love the layout at San Lameer; it’s such a nice golf course. I desperately wanted to win the SA Women’s Open and I planned my end-of-season schedule around it. Going into the back nine, I knew I needed to do something special to pull it off and I thought “let’s just go for it”. So I started playing more aggressively, and pulled it off. It was definitely one of those dream come true scenarios and it was incredible to win in front of such wonderful supporters.’ Riding a wave of confidence, Pace broke through for her maiden LPGA Tour victory in the Blue Bay LPGA in China just eight days later.
With a tie for sixth at the Evian Championship among her highlights this season, Pace has risen to 42nd on the LPGA Tour Money List and ranks 54th in the Race to the CME Globe – the season-long points competition, which concludes with the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, Florida from 19-22 November. Pace says: ‘It felt great to have the back-to-back victories and to play to a level I know I’m capable of.’ As the most recognisable face in South African women’s golf, Pace believes it is important to support the country’s flagship event and the Sunshine Ladies Tour.
She says: ‘It may not always be possible, but I will always try my best to include the SA Women’s Open into my schedule. We need sponsors to grow our events to give our professionals a strong circuit to compete on and to ensure our amateurs have the platform they need to improve. The SA Women’s Open is a national treasure and it is crucial for us international campaigners to come home and show our support. I am really excited to come home and defend my title.’ De Lange is equally excited to have another stab at the Hibiscus Coast layout. The Gauteng amateur says: ‘It was unchartered waters last year, but this year I know what to expect. I will be able to start with a level of comfort and confidence I didn’t really have last year until the final round. It’s an exciting prospect.’
Photo credit: Justin Klusener