Buhai takes Investec SA Women’s Open with a victory lap
STEENBERG, 11 March 2023 – She savoured the applause during the walk on to the 18th green at Steenberg Golf Club on Saturday, and Ashleigh Buhai rewarded the crowd gathered there with a birdie to clinch the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship by a four-stroke margin.
In the end, the final round of Buhai’s fourth national title was something of a victory lap, as she started the day with a four-stroke edge.
Her four-under-par 68 to finish the Sunshine Ladies Tour and Ladies European Tour’s co-sanctioned tournament meant the gap was still four after runner-up Ana Pelaez Trivino of Spain also carded a 68.
“I’m over the moon, obviously,” said Buhai. “Ecstatic to have gotten the job done. My goal was to come here and win this week. I tried to play it down, because I know it’s a lot of pressure and it was going to be difficult to do. But now that I’ve got it over the line, I’m really happy.”
It hardly mattered that Buhai, the reigning AIG Women’s Open champion, dropped two shots in three holes down the finishing stretch, because she made five birdies on her front nine as her lead stretched to as much as seven at one point.
“It was great to start with a birdie on one, especially after making bogey there yesterday,” said Buhai. “I had good putts on two and three, and then made three in a row on four, five and six, and I just kept it going. And it was a good putt on nine for that birdie too.
While the bogeys may have irritated Buhai on some deeply personal level, the reality is that she had done the heavy lifting in the first two round, and was able to do enough thereafter to simply preserve her lead for the rest of a week which was something of a celebratory homecoming.
“On the back nine, I hit good shots, but I was kind of in between yardages,” she said, “and the wind got a little bit trickier. But luckily I had that big lead, and I could just hit it to the space on the greens and take my two putts. They had to come chasing and I did what I had to do to get the job done.”
After her putter seemed to have mutinied during the second round, Buhai took it on herself to put it in its place by hitting what seemed like every approach shot on the front nine to inside a few feet. While the big putts which took her clear of the field in the first two rounds were missing from her repertoire, she wasn’t too fussed. “I have my routine on the greens, and I have found that following that every time rather than worrying about whether the putt goes in calms me down a lot, and the results will come from the familiarity of that routine.”
Trivino took her second runner-up result in a row after she finished in a share of second in last week’s Joburg Open, and it was achieved by brave play throughout. “I felt really good this week and last week,” she said. “We’re making sure that every area is covered and then just go out there and have fun. Luckily, we’re playing good golf and we can enjoy it even more. I’m going to take everything to next week and hopefully get that win. I like runner-up finishes, but I’d rather have the trophy with me!”
In third after a closing three-under-par 69 was German teenager Chiara Noja, who, like Buhai, was hit by the stomach bug which hit many players in the field. “I’m really proud of myself that I managed to pull through this week,” she said. “After the first round when I shot 62, I was feeling really bad physically. I played decent golf today. I had so many missed opportunities and I finally didn’t miss the top 10. We’re back in business.”
Rookie Kaleigh Telfer eagled the last to finish the next-best South African in fifth on 11-under. Her closing 68 put her 11 strokes behind Buhai’s winning 22-under. Casandra Alexander closed with a one-under 71 to finish inside the top 10 in a share of seventh on nine-under.
For Buhai, the victory justified her decision to come home after a long stretch away from her United States base. “It’s always important for me to play this tournament when I can,” she said. “Unfortunately scheduling didn’t work out the last few years because of changes forced by COVID. But I’m happy even though it was at the end of a four-week run and I was a little tired at the beginning of the week, but obviously now I’m thrilled that I came home.
“I’m sure there will be a celebratory braai tonight. I’ve got a few family and friends here, and it’s going to be good to share this with them.”
She also shared it with the applauding fans, and, in a pointed gesture, she made sure to turn back to sign autographs for a young girl and boy who ran after her as she set off for yet another television interview.
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Written and released by Lali Stander and Mike Green on behalf of the Sunshine Ladies Tour.
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