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Pace recovers to runner-up spot after nightmare start in the wind
- Updated: April 25, 2016
South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace outgunned three of the world’s top 10 players to claim a runner-up finish in the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic on Sunday.
The Mossel Bay golfer navigated the high winds that whipped around the Lake Merced course in California to close with a two-over-par 74. She finished on five under 283, four shots behind winner Haru Nomura from Japan and three strokes ahead of world number one Lydia Ko, number three Lexi Thompson and number seven Brooke Henderson, among others.
Chasing a second LPGA Tour win since her breakthrough at the Blue Bay LPGA in China in 2014, Pace began the final round three off the pace, but her challenge took a major nosedive with a five bogey start. Most golfers would be livid after such a start, but quintet of bogeys had quite the opposite effect on the three-time Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies champion.
‘I’m so fired up for the rest of the season after this round,’ said Pace from California. ‘I got back into the zone after that dreadful start and now I’m just hoping to keep it going.’
Her meltdown started after a great drive down the middle of the fairway at the first.
‘I hit a solid five-iron for my second, but the ball landed in a divot. I ended up making bogey, then I three-putted the second and third holes and messed up the fourth. After dropping another shot at five, I was really mad and frustrated.
‘We had a 10-minute wait at the sixth hole and I had a serious talk to myself. I don’t think I would have recovered from that kind of start last year, but a few things have changed in the six months. I got up on the tee at six, made a birdie and I knew I was back.’
One of the ‘things’ was sessions with renowned South African sport psychologist Eugene Oppelette in her three-month break at the end of last year. The other was new caddie Johan Swanepoel.
‘Johan gave me some space after the fifth, because he is a pro himself and understands the frustrations you face on the course,’ she said. ‘But when we stood on the sixth tee, he said ‘Okay, we messed up, but you still have a chance, so let’s do it.’
‘We’ve known each other 15 years and he gets me. He knows what to say, when to say it and he keeps me in a positive state of mind.’
Pace chipped to 15 metres at six and two-putted for birdie. She defied the three-club wind to mail a hybrid from 175 metres into the postage stamp green at seven and made par. After taking three at the short eighth, she hit a well-timed hook into the ninth to set up another birdie.
‘I aimed that shot 30 metres left to get it to the green, and two-putted,’ said Pace. ‘The wind was just insane. The trees and the pins were bending over. It pushed me off my feet and I had to step away from my tee shot at 12 three times. After I bogeyed 10, I birdied 11 and 12. It was so tough to get the ball within six metres of the pin on the back nine, but I used every shot in the bag. I hit a huge draw, probably 40 metres, into 13 and made par and then birdied 14.
‘To give you an idea of the force of the wind, I was hitting driver, five-wood into 14. On Sunday, I hit driver and only had 125 metres to the pin. I hit a wedge and two putts for the birdie. After the bogey at 16, I knew I couldn’t win, but I fought for pars at 17 and 18 to finish second.’
Pace tied for 14th in the season’s first Major – the ANA Inspiration – two weeks ago and claimed a joint 15th place finish in last week’s Lotte Championship. The runner-up finish lifted her to 12th in the LPGA Tour Official Money List and brought her closer to her 2016 goal.
‘My goal for this season was to break into the top 10 on the Money List as quickly as possible,’ Pace said. ‘I’m so close now I can taste it. I believe anything is possible. I have an incredible support team in place and am confident that I can win again. To come back from five over in the toughest conditions I’ve ever faced has left me incredibly excited for the future and it’s an awesome feeling.’
Three-time Sunshine Ladies Tour winner Bertine Strauss banked a fifth cheque in seven starts in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour with a tie for 64th after rounds of 76, 72, 77 and 74, while compatriot Paula Reto missed the cut with rounds of 77 and 74.
The South African trio now travel to Irving in Texas for the $1.3-million Volunteers of America Texas Shootout at Las Colinas Country Club.
Hoping to use the LPGA Tour’s feeding Tour as a stepping stone to the main Tour, Stacy Bregman also enjoyed a profitable weekend in her first appearance on the Symetra Tour. The four-time Sunshine Ladies Tour champion claimed a share of 45th in the Guardian Retirement Championship in Florida with rounds of 77, 75 and 77.