During a practice round at Muirfield, Ashleigh Buhai pulled up a YouTube video of Ernie Els’ magnificent bunker shot on the par-3 13th from his victory 20 years ago for inspiration. One day, a young South African will do the same to Buhai after she pulled off a sensational bunker save of her own on the fourth playoff hole to win the 2022 AIG Women’s British Open over three-time major winner In Gee Chun.
If an LPGA victory felt like a long time coming for Buhai – 221 starts over the span of a dozen years – consider that women have waited centuries for this opportunity.
In 2019, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers invited its first female members in the club’s 275-year history. That only came after the R&A took the iconic course off the men’s British Open rota after a 2016 membership vote to bring women in failed to reach the two-thirds required. A re-vote in 2017 pushed it through.
Buhai became the third South African to win a British Open at Muirfield, joining her hero Els and Gary Player, who won in 1959. While this marked the first women’s professional event ever held at Muirfield, the men have staged 16 British Opens at the historic club dating back to 1892.
Buhai joins a storied list of Muirfield champions that includes Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon and Phil Mickelson.
She’s the second South African woman to win a major, joining Sally Little.
“For me to be a female South African and a major winner,” said Buhai. “I’ve got no words, it’s life-changing.”
Buhai took a commanding five-shot lead into the final round after carding 30 and 31 on the front nine in the second and third rounds, respectively.
After Buhai rifled a 3-wood into the green on the par-4 first hole Sunday and converted a 6-footer for par, she looked in control on a blustery day on the links.
It all seemed to unravel in a flash, however, late on the back nine.
Standing on the 15th tee, Buhai held a three-shot lead when her drive found a fairway bunker. A rushed second shot out sideways went long into the fescue and it was a tangled mess from there, with a late triple-bogey bringing a host of players back in the fray.
Buhai ultimately closed with a 75, while Chun shot 70 to leave the pair knotted at 10 under for the tournament, one better than 2019 AIG champion Hinako Shibuno.
They traded blows down the 18th four times, with Buhai finding a daunting greenside bunker as daylight dwindled.
Shining brightest of all in the dark!
— AIG Women’s Open (@AIGWomensOpen) August 7, 2022
“Show them why you’re No. 1 in bunkers this year,” said her caddie, Tonya Paterson.
Buhai hit a beauty, and after Chun knocked in a bogey putt, the stage was set for the 33-year-old former South African prodigy to etch her name into history.
Chun, who was vying to become the eighth player in LPGA history to win four different majors, will have to wait until 2023 for her next attempt.
Leona Maguire, the first Irishwoman to win on the LPGA, carded the day’s lowest round, a bogey-free 66, to vault into a share of fourth.
Rose Zhang, the No. 1 amateur in the world, claimed the Smyth Salver as the only amateur to play the weekend at Muirfield. The Stanford star finished 1 over for the tournament in a share of 28th place.
“Winds were brutal today,” said Zhang, “but I loved every moment.”