Lee-Anne Pace will be the lone South African lining up for the 31st annual Kraft Nabisco Championship that tees off at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California tonight. Pace flew out to America earlier than she had in previous years to work with her coach, James Petts, in preparation for the first LPGA Major of the season. The 33-year-old sharpened her skills with three top five finishes and a victory on the local Sunshine Ladies Tour and the regular competition already paid off elsewhere. She tied for fourth in the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Meryem Cup in March and departed for the United States on the back of claiming the inaugural Investec Cup for Ladies. In addition to a string of tournament commitments in Australia, Morocco and South Africa over the last eight weeks, Pace also dealt with her sister’s wedding at the end of January, relocated to Pearl Valley Golf Estates and changed golf clubs.
But Pace is rearing to go, “The start of the year has been very busy, but I think it has gone as well as can be expected. I thoroughly enjoyed playing on the Sunshine Ladies Tour and winning the Investec Cup. That was special, not only did I win in my home country, but I won for my sponsor, Investec, who has been a tremendous support to me. The Sunshine Ladies Tour has been a great way to prepare actually. I have been playing golf regularly and it has given me the chance to really get used my new clubs.”
This year marks Pace’s her third appearance in the Kraft Nabisco. She arrived a little earlier this year than in previous years to fit in some work with her European coach, James Petts. “I have been working hard with James over the last few days. I feel like my game is in great shape. I love this course, the atmosphere of majors and to be playing against the best,” she said. Pace is keeping her expectations realistic.
“I want to put myself into a good position heading into the week-end. Come Sunday afternoon, I would love to be right in the mix,” said Pace. The $2-million championship has drawn a field of 110 players, including world number one Inbee Park and Christie Kerr, a two-time winner this season. Park has reeled in four top 10 finishes on the trot this season, include a joint sixth finish at the LPGA Tour’s Kia Classic last weekend.
The South Korean is not only launching her title defence in the first of three majors this season, but will also try to emulate the legendary Annika Sorenstam, who won back-to-back titles in 2001 and 2001. Meanwhile Kerr comes into the season’s first major after victories at the Ladies European Tour’s ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open and the JTBC Founders Cup on the LPGA Tour. The American, a champion in 2000 and 2006, is a huge favourite, having recorded 11 top 10’s and 17 top 20 finishes in her 19 starts. South Africans, however, would love nothing more than seeing Pace follow previous Kraft Nabisco Championship winners and leap into Poppie’s Pond on Sunday.
Photo: Lee-Anne Pace
Photo credit: Luke Walker