Lee-Anne Pace has $1 million reasons to play one more round

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Lee-Anne Pace has $1 million reasons to play one more round

LPGA Tour

Lee-Anne Pace has $1 million reasons to play one more round

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THE COLONY, Texas – Lee-Anne Pace doesn’t believe in tarot cards. But for fun, she decided on a whim to spend $20 for a reading earlier this spring while in Las Vegas.

The shuffling, it seemed, went on forever. The room was hot.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

“Hmmmm, you’re going to make a lot of money,” the woman began.

“Lot of money. Money is coming up a lot in your cards.”

It had been a slow start to the season for Pace, a 38-year-old from South Africa who knew her days on the LPGA were numbered. She didn’t believe in this sort of thing, of course, but it sure sounded good with her bank account running low.

After the reading, Pace won at the blackjack table but wouldn’t reveal how much.

She went to find the woman again but she was gone.

Fast forward to the Volunteers of America Classic in steamy Texas and here sits Pace, the unlikeliest of leaders in the first-ever Aon Risk Reward Challenge, a race that concludes in November with a $1 million prize, the same payout winner Brooks Koepka received on the PGA Tour.

At the start of the season, the LPGA and PGA Tours designate one strategically challenging hole from each tournament. Players take their two best scores from each Aon Risk Reward Challenge hole, and the best average score to par at the end of the season wins the $1 million – life-changing money for most in the women’s game.

Pace would’ve already packed it in were it not for this race. Worn down by injuries and ready to move on with life, she was set to retire from the LPGA earlier this year when her sister called to inform her that she was leading.

Lee-Anne Pace tees off on the second hole in the first round of the 2019 CP Womens Open. Photo: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

Leading what?

Pace hadn’t read her emails from the tour. Didn’t know about the Aon race let alone the fact that she was leading it. She found out that she needed 17 more rounds – 40 in all – to qualify for the prize.

Ugh.

That’s a lot of golf for an aching body that’s ready to rest. Pace carried on and kept missing cuts, yet still found herself leading the darn thing.

“I’d shoot like 80 but still birdie this hole,” she said, laughing. “It was bizarre. It would be like the most difficult putt ever and I’d make it.”

Pace hadn’t touched a club in four weeks when she arrived in The Colony, Texas, without her golf clubs. They’re still stuck in Spain somewhere. She’s forever grateful to the folks at Callaway and PXG for putting together an emergency set for her this week. She took them for a spin on Wednesday at the Old American Golf Club, working through her options on the Aon Risk Reward hole for the week, the par-5 17th with water down the left-hand side.

After suffering through a great deal of pain last August in Portland, Ore., Pace went to see a doctor in France, where she has a second residence. There she was diagnosed with Maignes Syndrome. Any type of torso rotation sends sharp pain to her hip, stomach and lower back. She’ll probably need surgery down the road.

Looking back, Pace regrets that she quit investing in the on-the-road physio who helped keep her body in check. It was a cost-cutting measure that apparently cut too deep.

Decades ago, Pace almost took an early exit on her road to the LPGA. Continuing the game past high school proved too costly in South Africa so she quit golf, took a job at a Greek coffee shop and dreamed of becoming a pediatrician.

Then a friend contacted her about playing golf at Murray State.

A rusty Pace didn’t know anything about the American college system when she signed up to play for Velvet Milkman. She eventually transferred to Tulsa and, after qualifying for the LPGA in 2007 and losing her card, first made her mark as a professional on the Ladies European Tour, winning five times in 2010 and topping the tour’s Order of Merit.

One week after Pace won her ninth title on the Ladies European Tour in 2014, she won the Blue Bay LPGA in China.

Five years later, Pace has a chance to end her career in a way that could literally set her up well for the rest of her life. After she completes the first round in Texas, Pace be eligible to win the $1 million. The only problem is her current ranking on the money list, 135th, leaves her out of the fall Asian swing. She’d have to win this week to have a chance to extend her season.

Those in pursuit – Carlota Ciganda, Ariya Jutanugarn, Hyo Joo Kim, and Lydia Ko to name a few – will have plenty of opportunities to pass Pace in the coming weeks.

Brittany Altomare ranks seventh on the list. She looks at the rankings once a month or so and celebrates with her caddie when she birdies the risk/reward holes. She’s still a little fuzzy on the math.

“It’s not going to help in any way to stress about it,” said a relaxed Pace as she played the 18th on Wednesday. “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I shouldn’t be in this position anyway.”

Pace gets the question often: What would you do with the $1 million?

She’d like to start a family with her partner. Maybe run a small business. Give gifts to friends and family who are in need back in Paarl, South Africa. Help shelter dogs run free.

Maybe the tarot cards got it right. Maybe Pace’s LPGA career will end with a pot of gold.

Win or lose, she’s at peace.

“I’m happy to finally see things clearly,” she said, “and walk away with a happy heart.”

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