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Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK
Picture: 123RF/DEKLOFENAK

The 2022 Sunshine Ladies Tour was book-ended by an announcement of a continued partnership with increased value from Investec before the season started, and yet another thrilling Investec SA Women’s Open Championship to close out the season.

The ninth season of the tour featured seven Order of Merit events, teeing off in Cape Town with the SunBet Cape Town Ladies Open from February 2-4 and culminating with the SA Women’s Open, back in the Mother City from March 30-April 2.

In a huge move for women’s golf development, two events — the Joburg Ladies Open and the SA Women’s Open — were co-sanctioned with the Ladies European Tour, offering the champions playing privileges on the international circuit, while the Jabra Ladies Classic offered the winner a spot in the Jabra Ladies Open on the 2022 Ladies European Tour.

In addition to the growth on the schedule, there was a huge growth in prize money too, as the players competed for nearly R13m.

The purse for the SunBet Cape Town Ladies Open was boosted to R400,000, and the SA Women’s Open had a €300,000 purse, or just over R5m.

The Sunshine Ladies Tour’s main vision is to give young players a springboard.

Appropriately, it was rookie Nadia van der Westhuizen who closed with a third-round one-under-par 73 to take her maiden professional victory, holding off reigning SA Women’s Open champion Lee-Anne Pace, five-time Sunshine Ladies Tour winner Stacy Bregman, Tandi McCallum, who led the first two rounds, and 2021’s runner-up Cara Gorlei — consigning them to joint second.

The Dimension Data Ladies Challenge shone the spotlight on a player who became the big story of the season.

Sweden’s Linn Grant began her pro season with an innocuous-looking level-par 72, but followed that with a pair of five-under 67s to race to 10-under-par for the tournament and a seven-stroke victory over Nicole Garcia. Even though it was her first tournament of the season, she had enough in reserve to hold off a superb eight-under-par 64 in the closing round by Garcia.

There was another runaway win in the SuperSport Ladies Challenge as Paula Reto, on a break from the LPGA Tour to visit family at home, teed it up at Sun City. She was playing her first tournament at the Gary Player Country Club, and it didn’t show as she opened with a 67 in the first round and a 65 in the second. But in the end, a closing 71 was more than enough to give her a 10-stroke win over Casandra Alexander. Grant and Pace shared third on two-under-par, while Bregman and Romy Meekers of the Netherlands placed joint fifth place on one-under.

That was followed by another episode in the Linn Grant saga, as she edged Reto by two shots over 54 holes in the Jabra Ladies Classic at Glendower Golf Club. It was a superb closing seven-under-par 65 that got the job done for her.

For the Swede, her SA campaign was a vindication of hard work and of the decision to play here before launching herself on the Ladies European Tour. For the Sunshine Ladies Tour, it continued its legacy of launching new champions onto the world stage.

And there was still more to come from Grant.

A closing five-under-par 67 in the Joburg Ladies Open gave her a five-shot win over Switzerland’s Kim Metraux and a dream start in her first event on the Ladies European Tour. Grant, who earned cards for the 2022 LET and LPGA Tour at Q-School in 2021, had already shown her calibre with two runner-up finishes at the end of that year, making the most of invitations to two events in her home country.

While Grant scripted a wonderful success story on the tour, Pace had a tale of her own to craft, which she did with incredible gutsiness in the face of adversity as she dramatically won her record-breaking fifth SA Women’s Open Championship title at Steenberg Golf Club.

She came back from the dead and triumphed in a gruelling six-hole play-off, eventually dispatching the challenge of Argentine Magdalena Simmermacher after the duo was tied on level-par after 72 holes of regulation play. That was after overnight leader Becky Brewerton of Wales heartbreakingly slipped out of contention after a final round six-over 78 to miss out on a play-off spot by one.

In addition to her fifth SA Women’s Open title, it was also Pace’s 11th Ladies European Tour victory and her 15th Sunshine Ladies Tour title — and she also earned herself a place at the US Women’s Open later in 2022.

Incredibly, Grant managed yet another top-10, finishing in a share of seventh, six strokes behind Pace and Simmermacher in the play-off.

The Swede had already sewn up the Order of Merit, but Pace got a little closer to her in second. Alexander took third, as Reto’s two tournaments were not enough to qualify for a position on the list. Garcia and Nobuhle Dlamini of Eswatini rounded out the top five.

Of the nearly R13m up for grabs, Grant took home well over R1m, which proved the point that the Sunshine Ladies Tour has had a 2022 that has set it up for continued growth and success.

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