south Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace comes into the year’s first Major riding a wave of confidence and a game to support it after three victories on the Sunshine Ladies Tour and a solid start to her LPGA Tour season. The three-time Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion and compatriot Paula Reto will fly the flag for South Africa in the world class field assembled for the ANA Inspiration, which tees off in Rancho Mirage, California on Thursday. Pace, making her sixth start in this event with her best finish a tie for 69th last year, currently sits at 59 in the official world golf rankings.
The women’s event at the 2016 Olympic Games from August 17-20 will feature a 60 player field. The top 15 players in the Rolex Rankings will automatically qualify with a maximum of four players per country, while the remaining 45 spots will be based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two players from each country qualifying. South Africa’s top ranked Pace is counting on her good form of late to help her hunt down a top 20 finish to help her crack the top 50.
Reto, meanwhile, has enjoyed a solid start to her third season on the LPGA Tour and broke into the top 140 in the world rankings after top 10 finishes this March in the JTBC Founders Cup and Coates Golf Championship. The Bloemfontein player will definitely attempt to improve on her joint 25th place finish in her debut at the Dinah Shore Course last year. Pace will tee it up alongside Shiho Miyazaki from Japan in the first two rounds, while Reto will have Canadian Alena Sharp for company over the first 36 holes.
World number one Lydia Ko will also aim to take a leap into Poppy’s Pond on Sunday. Following four top 10 finishes and her 11th LPGA Tour victory in the Kia Classic this season, it is no wonder that the 19-year-old is a firm favourite this week. Ko tied for 51st in 2015, shared 29th in 2014 and was the leading amateur in 2013 with a tie for 25th amateur in 2013. American Brittany Lincicome is the defending champion, while former champions Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Imbee Park further strengthen the field at Mission Hills Country Club.
Photo credit: Catherine Kotze / SASPA