Lee-Anne Pace was the home heroine once again as she clinched a record fourth Investec South African Women’s Open title on Sunday – carding a final round of 72 for a one-shot win over Germany’s Leonie Harm.
In the Ladies European Tour (LET) curtain-raiser Pace’s victory, where she finished the tournament on two-over-par, at Westlake Golf Club also ensures she leads the 2021 Race to Costa del Sol.
‘I’m so happy to win again. My last win on the LET was in 2014 and to get number 10 is just incredible,’ said Pace, who was also the first Sunshine Ladies Tour golfer to win the flagship event three successive years in 2014, 2015 and 2017 (no event in 2016).
‘It’s always nice to play to end the Sunshine Ladies Tour season and start the LET season here at home, and this year is it extra special. Thank you to all the golfers who made the effort to travel to South Africa to compete in this year’s Investec South African Women’s Open. Also, a big thank you to Investec and the City of Cape Town for your incredible support of women’s golf.’
After play was suspended with the leaders only midway through the third round, Pace – playing in the final group with Harm and compatriot Nicole Garcia – had plenty of golf left as they completed the third round before heading back out onto the course again.
But there was a surprise leader when the third round wrap up.
The LET’s youngest member, 17-year-old Pia Babnik, had carded 69 in the sunny conditions to see her level par for the tournament. The Slovenian teenager started the final round two shots ahead of Pace, who carded 73 and three clear of Harm and Garcia.
Babnik had a mixed final round and a pair of double bogeys at 16 and 18 saw her slip out of contention.
Pace, who has dominated the Sunshine Ladies Tour since its inception in 2014 with 13 victories, knocked on the door all summer and she finally got the job done over the last 18 holes.
The 40-year-old offset a lone bogey with two birdies on the front nine and made another birdie on the par-4 12th. “I don’t know what happened on the last two holes; I think I realised I had it in the bag and just lost my focus,” said the South African, who held on to seal her 10th LET title despite finishing with successive bogeys.
‘I’m actually quite glad I played out of the trees on the 18th and that I didn’t go for it, I thought I had to go for it, because the last scoreboard I had seen still had me at +1 and in second-place. My short game has been so good, so I thought if I play out on the green I would have a chance and the worst case was a play-off.
‘I hit the ball on the right side of the hole for the whole day. There were a couple of putts that could easily have dropped that didn’t. I was very happy with my game, I hit a lot of the greens and I did it!’
There was a lot on the line for Pace, who not only walked away with the lion share of the €200 000 purse and the Investec Order of Merit title, worth R100 000. She also pocketed another R100 000 as the first South African winner of the brand-new Investec Homegrown Trophy.
On top of this, Pace’s triumph at Westlake shot her to the top of the 2021 LET Race to Costa del Sol and earned her the first of four spots into the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open.
‘The incentives to win this week was incredible. We really had so much to play for and I can’t be more excited. I am going for my US visa next week – Olympic Club, here I come,’ said a jubilant Pace.
The 76th US Women’s Open takes place in June and the other three players who earned a ride into the second Major of the year was Harm, who recorded her best-ever finish on the LET at this tournament, as well as Germany’s Karolin Lampert and South Africa’s Nicole Garcia, who tied for third.
Garcia said: ‘That last putt for par on 18 was the most nerve-wracking putt I ever had to sink; I really wanted that US Women’s Open spot and the relief to see it drop was indescribable. I am absolutely over the moon that I nailed it. And I am so grateful to everyone that made this year’s Investec South African Women ‘s Open happen so we could get those spots.’
It was also a good news day for reigning South African Women’s Amateur champion Caitlyn Macnab, who lifted the Jackie Mercer Trophy as the leading amateur.
The GolfRSA No. 1 won the Jabra Ladies Classic three weeks ago and became the first amateur to win on the local professional circuit since Ashleigh Buhai’s SA Women’s Open win in 2007. The 19-year-old Glendower amateur improved every day, carding rounds of 77, 75, 74 and 73 to tie for 16th on 299.