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Thursday, September 29, 2022

WATCH: Ashleigh Buhai lands landmark victory for SA women's golf

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Centurion – The list of Ashleigh Buhai’s achievements as a teen prodigy are long and glittering, but with her victory in the AIG Women’s British Open at Muirfield on Sunday, it was the crowning glory of her potential finally fulfilled.

The million dollar payday (R18.2m), was also fitting reward for her incredible play. It was also the first time a South African has won a major, since Ernie Els won The Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012. The major drought in the women’s game was even longer, as Sally Little was the last to achieve the feat in 1988 – a year before Buhai was even born.

Buhai, burst onto the SA golfing scene in the amateur ranks in the early 2000s as she became the youngest player to win the ladies SA Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play. She would go on to win the SA Women’s Open in 2003, winning the professional event while still an amateur. Buhai, now aged 33, has gone on to win the SA Women’s Open three times in total. She also represented South Africa in the women’s Cup of golf four times, twice as an amateur.

Buhai turned professional a day after her 18th birthday in 2007, and swiftly won on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in just her third event as a professional. Though she has 11 Sunshine Ladies Tour titles to her credit, Buhai until Sunday had just three victories on the LET and none on the US LPGA Tour. That she had not become a prolific winner at the top of the women’s game belied her incredible talent.

And her breakthrough win at Muirfield did not come easily either. Buhai began the final round with a five-shot lead, having previously only even managed one top-10 finish in a major. With a steady putter and some impressive ball striking, Buhai had hung on to a three-shot lead after 14 holes as she was one-over for her round.

Then disaster struck. She found a fairway bunker with her tee shot, and with the ball close to the lip Buhai was forced to chip out sideways. Playing out to the left, the ball nestled into a terrible lie in the deep rough from which she could only advance it a few more metres.

A triple bogey seven would be the result and dropped Buhai into a tie for the lead, with three to play. From there she did well to par her way in, and in the playoff was able to outlast In Gee Chun – winning on the fourth hole os sudden death in fading light.

That she delivered the hammer blow with a stunning recovery from the green side bunker was an exclamation mark on an impressive display from a player who may just be breaking the floodgates in her career.

Buhai said afterwards: “My caddie said to me on the last one, I don’t want to brag but, she said, ‘show them why you are number one in bunkers this year.’ She gave me the confidence.”

Not many players in her position would have been able to recover from a triple bogey so late in the tournament, and her mental strength to keep going – while it may have appeared her chance at glory was gone – was commendable.

“Obviously there’s a lot of hard work, many years of dedication going into this. I’m very proud of myself, the way I dug deep and kept myself in it to get into the playoff,” added Buhai.

With her win, Buhai also added her name to the list of SA winners of The Open at Muirfield, with Els winning in 2002 and Gary Player triumphing in 1959.

@Golfhackno1

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