Tearful Ashleigh Buhai clinches first major in play-off drama at Women's Open

·4 min read
Ashleigh Buhai - Tearful Ashleigh Buhai clinches first major in play-off drama at Women's Open - GETTY IMAGES
Ashleigh Buhai - Tearful Ashleigh Buhai clinches first major in play-off drama at Women's Open - GETTY IMAGES

Ashleigh Buhai claimed her first major after a dramatic play-off against South Korean world No 11 Chun In-gee.

After holding her composure for so long, she burst into tears, hugging her husband David, who had been watching anxiously after he had spent the day caddying for another South Korean, Lee Jeong-eun.

Buhai dedicated the win to her husband who had caddied for her for eight years before they married in 2016. Then the couple decided, both for the sanity of their marriage and financial reasons, it was better to have separate golfing endeavours than one. “This one is for you, David,” she said in tears as she went on to explain “this has been a 15-year journey” as the couple met when she was still a teenager and he a talented aspiring golfer at a Johannesburg golf academy.

It was far from a straightforward win for the world No 84 despite starting the day with a five-shot lead as she triple-bogeyed the 15th hole before going on to the play-off against three-time major winner Chun.

“Forgive me if there will be a few tears. Many years and dedication have gone into this. No doubt there will be people with a lot more greys hairs in South Africa right now, particularly after the 15th.”

“All right Ashleigh” Buhai told herself in encouragement as she hit her first shot of the fourth play-off shot before landing in the bunker, but the self-encouragement paid off as she made a magnificent chip to get out of trouble. It was reminiscent of Ernie Els’s bunker shot on the 13th to help him towards his win at the same venue 20 years ago, where he too required a play-off. She had been watching videos of that famous shot this week for inspiration, and it paid off.

Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open
Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open

It was a particularly poignant win as this was the first Women’s Open to be hosted at Muirfield – after the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers only admitted female members for the first time in 2019.

Buhai, 33, described this first major win as “life changing” and it will be both on and off the course as she earnt $1.095 million (£829,000), almost five times her earnings from last year.

Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open
Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open

Buhai was regarded as a teenage prodigy in South Africa before turning professional when she turned 18. She also had a bright start to her LET career with three wins and after 222 starts on the LPGA, the Johannesburg woman finally got her win and there is no better one to win than the Women’s Open.

Buhai was still three ahead with four holes to play, only to run up a triple-bogey seven on the 15th after finding sin and off the tee and splashing out sideways into heavy rough.

That dropped her into a tie for the lead with Chun, whose closing 70 set the clubhouse target on 10 under.

Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open
Ashleigh Buhai comes through play-off to take Women's Open

After her birdie putt on the par-five 17th caught the edge of the hole and stayed out, Buhai had to hole from 4ft on the last to force a play-off after hitting her long birdie attempt past the hole.

The players returned to the 18th for extra holes and Chun brilliantly saved par from a greenside bunker to keep her hopes alive, with Buhai two-putting from long range.

Both players missed the green on the second extra hole and hit poor third shots before Chun hit her par putt 8ft past the hole, but the 27-year-old recovered her composure to salvage a bogey after Buhai’s long par attempt came up short.

Chun and Buhai hit superb shots on to the green on the third extra hole, but neither was able to convert.

With worries that the official sunset time was 9.06pm, there were fears that the play-off could extend to today as Buhai and Chun teed of just 10 minutes before with the light over the Firth of Forth rapidly fading.

But Buhai finally settled the outcome in style with a brilliant bunker shot setting up a tap-in par which Chun – who had found sand off the tee – was unable to match.

With the wind up at 20mph, some Muirfield members were predicting a four-shot swing. Leona Maguire benefited, as the best of the British and Irish challenge.

Playing in swirling winds is something the 27-year-old grew up with in County Cavan and she showed that in the typical links conditions, carding a five-under 66 to finish at  seven under and tied for fourth overall.