Towards the end of the 2012 season, Lee-Anne Pace was in a great position to challenge for her second Ladies European Tour title in two years and looked a shoe-in for the 2013 season on the LPGA Tour.
A tie for fifth at the China Suzhou Taihu Open in Suzhou, China had launched the Southern Cape golfer into the top five on the ISPS Handa Order of Merit. Her goal of winning the money list was well within her grasp with one or two more good finishes, and her current form suggested she could earn her LPGA Tour card after finishing second in the First Stage of Qualifying School.
But disaster struck in China, destroying her dreams of winning the money list a second time in Europe or campaigning in the United States this year.
“I was in my hotel room ahead of the Sanya Ladies Open and I stepped on the back of my flip-flop, tripped and put my right arm through a mirror in the room,” Pace explained.
“I was rushed to a local hospital, where they cleaned the wound and put in a bunch of stitches, but I realised that I couldn’t use my arm properly to swing. It was the end of the run and it really left me devastated. I had such high hopes and to have that suddenly taken away, was just gut-wrenching.”
Pace returned to South Africa, but when the arm continued to give her problems, opted for a second opinion. The resulting scans showed that the tendon had been severely cut and there was still glass shards in the wound. Surgery meant an even longer delay, meaning that the LPGA Tour School was also off the cards.
“That was probably the biggest pill to swallow,” said Pace. “I just missed getting my card in 2012 and I was playing some of my best golf and I had the form to get onto the LPGA. To have that chance taken away was a real blow. It was hard to accept that I would have to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch, again.”
Pace dedicated herself to physiotherapy and spent time with her South African coach, Val Holland, in preparation for the 2013 season.
In her first competitive outing, Pace missed the cut as she tried to shake off the rust of a three-month break at the Volvik RACV Ladies Masters in Australia, but her competitive spirit, gritty determination and undeniable talent showed when she made the cut at the ISPS Handa New Zealand Women’s Open and tied for 28th in the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open.
“It’s early days, but I can feel in every round that my game is coming back,” Pace said after firing rounds of 74-71-70-71 at Royal Canberra Golf Club.
“It’s just a matter of staying patient and keeping my head down, at this stage. We have some good events coming up and I definitely want to be in challenging shape by the time the WPGA hosts the SA Women’s Open in April.”
Pace had an unforgettable season in 2010, picking up five victories on her way to winning the Henderson Money List and enjoyed another strong season in 2012, finishing seventh in the final rankings. In July last year, she put up a great challenge in the prestigious co-sanctioned SA Women’s Open at Selborne last year to tie for second. This year, she is aiming for a podium finish.
“I would love to win the SA Women’s Open at home,” said Pace. “It’s not just about adding my name to the trophy. We have a strong contingent of South African players on the Ladies European Tour and we need that number to continue growing.
“By winning in front of my peers and fans, I hope to inspire the next generation to join us in Europe. My biggest dream would be to have a string of tournaments like these in South Africa, to give our girls a chance to gain competitive experience and to prepare them for the big stage.”
Pace lines up with compatriot Stacy-Lee Bregman at the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship on March 7-10, where the South African pair will challenge against teams from 19 countries for the $100,000 team prize money and a $500,000 individual purse.
“Stacy and I are really looking forward to this event,” she said. “We practice together a lot and we know each others games well, so I think we will do well in the format. Should be a great week”