It took 15 years of hard work and patience, and 76 holes of determination at Muirfield. Today, South African Ashleigh Buhai is a great champion. Buhai outlasted three-time major champion In Gee Chun in a four-hole sudden-death playoff match to win the 2022 AIG Women’s Open, becoming the first woman to engrave her name on the trophy at Muirfield’s famous links.
“In Gee are a major champion, and I knew I had to go out and win. I mean 18 played so hard all week, so it was going to be tough, and then it started to get colder and windier,” said said Buhai, a 33-year-old from Johannesburg, “I was just really proud of how I managed to stay focused on myself and try to do what I had to do.”
With the win, Buhai became South Africa’s second major female winner, joining Sally Little (1980 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, 1988 du Maurier Classic). She also joined seven men who won major titles, including Gary Player and Ernie Els, who won at Muirfield in 1959 and 2002 respectively. Buhai became the 44th player to become a first Rolex winner at a major championship.
Buhai, who started the day with a five-stroke lead at -14, never looked as comfortable on the Muirfield ties on Sunday as she had in the previous three rounds. She birdied and two bogeyed the front nine but still held a three-stroke lead at -13 at the corner as the field around her failed to capitalize. Chun had shot within a shot of Buhai, but lost three shots behind with bogeys at 10 and 12.
But it all went haywire at No. 15 for Buhai, who found a fairway bunker off the tee and struck wide, needing two shots to escape the deep rough. After sending the ball from the back of the green with her fifth shot, she needed two putts to find the hole with a triple bogey 7, falling to par with Chun at -10.
“That was probably the worst swing I’ve had all week. Was a bit quick on top. But if I had half a lie in that bunker, a plug on the drive, I could have taken it out the other way down the fairway. Obviously, that made the mistake worse,” Buhai said. “I didn’t panic, which I thought was huge, and just tried to get a good swing on the next one and just tried to get good swings to give myself a chance.”
Buhai had a great opportunity at No. 17 to regain the lead. After exploding from a greenside bunker, his birdie putt at No. 17 hit the right edge of the cup and ricocheted, leaving a stunned Buhai to grab par.
On the first hole of the playoffs, Chun executed a masterful back-and-forth from the bunker on the right side of the green to save par, while Buhai fired two shots from the front of the green. On the second, Chun missed his chip out of left rough, then blew his putt par 5 feet past the hole. Buhai’s 6-footer for par was just short, leaving him a bogey tap-in, and Chun nailed the comebacker to force another holeshot.
On the third trip back to No. 18, Buhai’s birdie attempt was just in line but heartbreakingly died down the left. On his fourth tee shot of the playoffs, Chun made his first major mistake of the day, landing his tee shot near the front face of a fairway bunker. With Chun sitting three from the back edge of the green, Buhai’s second ended up in the green bunker and it seemed like the nerves of the moment were getting to him. But she executed a perfect shot and put the ball 3 feet away. Buhai then putt par and immediately burst into tears, enveloped in a bear hug from her husband David Buhai, who is Jeongeun Lee6’s caddy and was surrounded by other players and caddies throughout the playoffs. .
“I think I did what I could do,” Chun said. “Ashleigh had some great ups and downs on the 18th. Almost close, but still, I don’t want to give up and just want to look for another tournament, another day.”
Buhai joined the LPGA TOUR as a rookie in 2008 and spent the next six years bouncing between the LPGA TOUR and the LET. She returned full-time to the LPGA Tour in 2014 and played the classic journeyman career, consistently earning enough to maintain her status but never securing a decisive victory. After four exciting days at Muirfield, Buhai has finally added his name to the LPGA Tour record books.
“I turned professional at 18. I was a little expected, a lot was expected of me. I won the Ladies European Tour straight away. But this game has a way of giving you a hard time,” Buhai said, “I’m so proud of how I’ve held on. I’ve said it over the past four or five years, I finally started to find my feet on the LPGA and I’ve felt like I could compete, and even though I’m 33 now, I feel like I’m playing the best golf of my career. It’s been a long journey, but man, it’s worth it now.