Ashleigh Buhai described her first major victory as “life-changing” after she claimed the AIG Women’s Open in the most dramatic fashion.
Buhai and three-time major winner In Gee Chun were embroiled in a titanic play-off that lasted four holes in fading light at Muirfield after both players finished 10-under-par through 72 holes.
But it was the South African who emerged victorious, thanks in part to a tremendous bunker recovery, which she credits her caddie with giving her the confidence to take on.
“Forgive me, there will be a few tears,” she said, at the Championship trophy presentation. “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 play off.”
A triple-bogey seven at the 15th could have ended her trophy aspirations entirely as her three-shot lead, which had been five heading into Sunday, was wiped out.
“I was surprisingly calm, I kept going through my steps and my thoughts and like I said yesterday I just needed 40%, that was all. I tried to just stay in the moment,” explained Buhai, when asked how she held it together.
“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.”
Buhai follows in the footsteps of Gary Player in 1959 and Ernie Els in 2002 to become the third South African to win a major at Muirfield, an achievement which has not yet sunk in.
“It’s so difficult to put into words, it might only hit me in a few days,” she said.
“We’re a very small country so to produce a few major champions is quite something. Now for me to be a female South African and a major winner, I’ve got no words, it’s life changing.”