June 5, 2023

Ashleigh Buhai waited until she was 33 to win her first major, so playing four more holes was nothing. After a 75 in the final round of the first Women’s Open at Muirfield to end with a five-shot lead, Buhay defeated Ren Yichun in a playoff that lasted more than an hour after sunset in East Lothian, and Men’s and Men’s Open. Women’s Grand Slam season.

Buhai is the only Cinderella story in the Wikipedia page. The South African enters the week lacking a major top 10 (she has only one appearance at the 2019 Woburn Women’s Open), but she is also ranked No. 84 in the world and has won both of the last two Women’s Grand Slams. Finished in the top 25 at the Women’s PGA Championship and the Evian Championship.

She rolled out the first three days at Muirfield. A 70 in the first round followed by rounds of 65 and 64 that included 13 birdies, an eagle and two bogeys to give her an all-day lead after five points while her partner Shibuya Nako Nohina reaches the final on Sunday to start a historic week at Muirfield.

Muirfield had a disaster on the par-4 15th after making enough one-shots over the first 14 holes of the final round. Buhai’s drive hit a bunker and it got worse from there. A flanking second precedes a clumsy third. She shot a triple-bogey 7 to tie for second with Chun, who was a hole ahead. They both made the playoffs with pars on the last three holes.

For someone like Buhai playing in his 43rd career major, that can often be disastrous. The world starts to spin, the ball starts to play, and what felt in complete control 10 minutes ago now feels like an 18-wheeler on ice going downhill.

However, she put her hands on the wheel and regained the title. It’s a sign of a mature player — Buhay has been on the LPGA Tour on and off since 2008, and was once the youngest winner on the Women’s European Tour — but it’s also a sign of a championship, and Buhay has become a champion.

The playoffs also have their moments of instability. Both players have endured cooler temperatures, poor second shots and stinging putts to prolong one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Buhai and Chun played their first three playoff holes — the 18th at Muirfield — for 13s. Par-Bogey-Par. And then they went to that tee for a fourth shot – probably because of the fading sun and low light – whatever the outcome, the last of the night.

Chun opened the door by hitting the ball in a bunker, but Buhai stopped her from entering a bunker that screamed “5”. Instead, she hit her life, and Chun left with a miraculous par bid. Buhai fell short and gave her the champion that slipped through her fingers multiple times in the first few hours.

Buhay joined fellow South Africans Gary Player (1959) and Ernie Els (2002) as champions at Muirfield.

“It’s hard to put into words now, and I think it might only move me for a few days,” she said in tears afterwards. “Obviously I’m proud. We’re a small country, so it’s amazing to be able to produce a lot of Grand Slam champions. For me, as a South African woman and a Grand Slam champion, I have no words. It changes. life.

It’s an emotional victory for her for very obvious reasons, but it’s also an emotionally convincing victory for the less obvious ones.

All important victories – for men and women – are life-changing, but not all are Same change life. And for Buhai, a professional knife sharpener who doesn’t win often at the highest level in the world, it’s a revelation. She grabbed the front of the hat and pulled it over her eyes, a reality she had been imagining too much for her to bear. Beautiful result of a long summer and a longer career.

It’s a wonderful curiosity to watch golfers try to understand or contextualize what they just accomplished a few seconds after it happened. This happens all the time throughout the golf world, but it rarely happens at this level because the stakes are so great. Buhay – because of her week, because of her long (but not outstanding) career, because of her way of reinvigorating herself after what could have been a nightmare on the 15th, and because of Muirfield – in 2022 more than others The past and future of anyone more than major seasons are written on her face. All at the same time, all in the present. What a wonderful thing.

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