As South Africans enjoyed Women’s Day on Tuesday, the country’s golfing fraternity were still celebrating Ashleigh Buhai’s phenomenal Major triumph in the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.
The Buhais are apparently one of the more well-liked families on the LPGA Tour and the victory, on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff, was a most popular one.
Ashleigh did it the hard way, too. Having dominated the middle section of the tournament with rounds of 65 and 64 on the second and third days, the 33-year-old Buhai had to rebound from giving away a five-shot lead with a triple-bogey on the 15th hole.
A brilliant bunker shot eventually won her the playoff over tenacious three-time Major champion Chun Ingee, Buhai joining Gary Player and Ernie Els as South Africans who have won Majors at Muirfield. Both were famous for their determination and bunker play, and Buhai is fit to join them as one of the country’s golfing elite.
Sally Little is the only other South African to win a women’s Major (1980, 1988) and Buhai’s triumph is the first at that level since Els claimed the Open crown at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 2012.
When she was still Ashleigh Simon, before she married husband David Buhai, who became a celebrity in his own right at Muirfield, dashing across the 18th green to embrace his wife, the Johannesburg-born golfer was considered a prodigy when she won the SA Amateur aged 14, the youngest to do so. She then won the SA Open three times in a row, which had not been done in more than a century, before winning her third event on the Ladies European Tour, the Catalonia Masters in 2007.
But it has been tough going for her since she crossed over to the LPGA Tour in 2014. The AIG Women’s Open was her first win on that tour in her 221st start.
From almost looking like she was destined to become a forgotten talent, like one of those antiques that was so admired but now gathers dust on the mantelpiece, Buhai says she is now playing the best golf of her career.
Hopefully winning the Major title many people predicted for her, will free her up to now go from strength-to-strength and be a major force in the women’s game. At 33, she can certainly look forward to peak years ahead of her.