LPGA pro’s chance at $1 million prize has her shirking retirement, battling injuries

September 27, 2019

Pro golfers are often discouraged from playing hurt. One can always withdraw, and even protect against losing status by claiming injury. That is not the case for LPGA player Lee-Anne Pace.

The 38-year-old seriously considered retirement earlier this year, according to the New York Times, until she was informed she was in the running for a year-long prize — the Aon Risk-Reward Challenge — worth one million dollars ($1,000,000!). (Brooks Koepka earned the same amount for winning the men’s challenge.) All of a sudden, despite the aches and pains and long hours spent on the road, retirement was no longer an option. Not yet, at least. Not when your annual earnings-to-date are less than $50,000 (and according to her accountant, that’s $50,000 in the red).

Right now, Pace ranks first in the challenge, which rewards players for low scores on what are pre-determined risky or “strategically challenging” holes throughout the tour schedule. Earlier this year Pace made headlines when she withdrew from an event after making a 9 on what was that week’s risk-reward hole. Her withdrawal nullified the 9, and earned her some skepticism from critics. She called the hip injury “all legitimate.”

This week’s test? The par-4 16th hole at Brickyard Crossing. Pace isn’t taking part; nor are her two leading competitors, Ariya Jutanugarn and Carlotta Ciganda. Pace holds a .006 stroke average lead over Jutanugarn and a .017 lead over Ciganda.

“This year’s been quite weird,” Pace told Karen Crouse of the Times, “because I wanted to stop playing four or five weeks ago.”

Well, she can’t quit now. Even as she’s battled injuries all over her body this season, Pace needs one more round to meet the Challenge minimum. According to the report, Pace intends to play at least one more tournament this year, next week at the Volunteers of America Classic in Texas. With a strong performance on whichever hole is picked, she might be able to ride off with a million-dollar victory into retirement.

That might just be it. Pace told Krouse, “I don’t think it will be wise to play two more events with a back injury.”

But what if she gets passed in the ranking? That million-dollar temptation might just keep her going.

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