May 30, 2023

Ashleigh Buhai waited until she was 33 for her first major championship win, so another four holes was nothing. After shooting 75 in the final round of the first Women’s Open at Muirfield to erase a five-year lead, Buhai edged past In Gee Chun in a playoff lasting over an hour as the sun set in East Lothian, as well as the men’s and women’s major league season.

Buhai is a Cinderella story only on the Wikipedia page. The South African entered the week lacking major top 10s (her only one came at the 2019 Women’s Open at Woburn), but she was also ranked No. 84 in the world and had made the top 25 in the last two women’s events at the Women’s PGA Championship and the Evian Championship.

He went out the first three days at Muirfield. A 1st-round 70 was followed by rounds of 65 and 64 that included 13 birdies, an eagle and just two bogeys to put her clear of Chun and partner Hinako Shibuno who will enter Sunday’s final to cap a historic week. at Muirfield.

After playing the first 14 holes of the final round in 1 over, Muirfield caused havoc on the par-4 15th. Bouhai hit her tee in a dugout and it got much worse from there. A second on the side preceded an inflated third. He triple-bogeyed 7 to drop into a tie for second with Chun, who was one hole back. Both birdied the last three holes to go into a playoff.

For someone like Buhai, who was playing in her 43rd career major league, that can often turn disastrous. The world starts spinning, the shots start running, and what 10 minutes ago felt like total control now looks like an 18-wheeler on downhill ice.

She put both hands on the wheel, though, and took the championship back into her hands. It’s the mark of a mature player — Buhai has been on the LPGA Tour since 2008 and was once the youngest winner in European Women’s Tour history — but it’s also the mark of a champion, which Buhai has become.

There were also moments of shock in the playoffs. Both players battled through plummeting temperatures, poor second shots and breaks to extend one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Buhai and Chun played the first three playoff holes — all 18 at Muirfield — in 13 strokes. Par-bogey-par. Then they went to that tee for the fourth and — due to the fading sun and lack of light, probably — final time for the night regardless of the outcome.

Chun opened the door by driving her ball into a bunker, but Buhai blocked her approach into a bunker calling out ‘5’. Instead, she hit the shot of her life and Chun left a miracle. Buhai put in a short one to give her the championship that could have slipped through her fingers so many times in the previous several hours.

Bouhai became champion at Muirfield with South Africans Gary Player (1959) and Ernie Ells (2002).

“It’s so hard to put into words right now, I think it might just hit me in a few days,” she said through tears afterward. “Obviously I’m very proud. We’re a very small country, so to be able to produce a number of great champions is something more than that. It’s life-changing in words.”

It was an emotional win for her, for very obvious reasons, but it was also an emotionally thrilling win to watch for less obvious ones.

All major victories — both men’s and women’s — are life-changing, but not all are equally Life changes. And for Buhai, a career grinder who hasn’t won very often at the world’s highest level, this was a revelation. She grabbed the front of her hat and pulled it over her eyes, the reality of what she had no doubt always envisioned too much to bear right now. A beautiful result for a long summer and an even longer career.

It’s a wonderful curiosity to watch golfers try to understand or contextualize what they’ve accomplished just seconds after it happens. This happens all the time throughout the golf world, but rarely at this level with so much risk. Buhai — because of her week and because of a long (but not illustrious) career and because of the way she resurrected herself after what could have been a nightmare at No. 15 and because of Muirfield — more than anyone else in 2022 The big season had both past and future written all over it. All at once and all in the present. What a wonderful thing to watch.

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