As Muirfield – home to a golf club founded in 1744 – hosted the women’s event for the first time, Ashleigh Buhai won her first major title in her 221st career start on the LPGA Tour.
In a thrilling final day worthy of the occasion, the South African snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, roaring on the verge of a late collapse to beat three-time major champion Chun In-Gee in a four-way knockout holes. .

In doing so, Buhai added his name to an illustrious list of South African golfers who won at Muirfield, the site of the first men’s Open victories for Gary Player and Ernie Els.

Yet, as the legendary duo boast 13 major titles, Buhai will forever retain the unique honor of being the first Women’s Open winner at the legendary Scottish course. With Muirfield reversing his all-male membership policy in 2017, the added significance of the triumph is not lost on Buhai.

“To add my name to this list with Gary and Ernie is a huge honor,” she told CNN’s Don Riddell.

“But also being the first woman to win at Muirfield, we made history last week…times are changing.

“Everyone there last week was fantastic, the crowd was fantastic – they welcomed us with open arms.”

Calm

The 33-year-old’s grip on a historic victory appeared to be receding to death when she triple-bogeyed on the 15th hole, the five-stroke advantage she held at the start of the final round evaporated when Chun equalized.

After bugging just once a day before – carding one under 70, 65 and 64 – Buhai now needed three consecutive pars just to rush to four over 75. But rather than panic, the South African was determined to keep his cool. head.

“I just thought, ‘Okay, we’re back tied for the lead’…I hadn’t lost it yet,” Buhai recalled.

“I had three more holes to go. And my caddy just said, ‘let’s get back to it and focus on the next shot.’ And that’s all I could do, the only thing I had control over would be the next shot.

“I had done so well that week, so I tried not to let the one hole disrupt my whole week.”

Buhai lines up a shot on the 14th hole on the final day.

Sure enough, Buhai kept his cool to wrap up with three pars and set up a biting sudden-death playoff with Chun.

The tension for Buhai was only heightened by the pedigree of the opposition, as Chun pursued his second major of the season following his PGA Championship win in June.

“I was just trying to stay in the moment, focus on every shot,” Buhai said.

“I knew In-Gee was going to be a fierce competitor, she’s already a big winner.”

Buhai putt during the play-off.

‘Lifestyle change’

Unable to be separated after three rounds of the 18th hole, the deadlock was broken when Chun – having found a bunker from the tee – could only bogey. Although she joined her opponent in the sand, an incredible approach shot from Buhai left her with a short putt for a first major title.

Making no mistake, the South African brought the ball home. After looking up at the sky, the new champion was kissed by her husband David, a picture of anxiety and stress throughout the playoffs.

Buhai celebrates victory with her husband David on the eighteenth green.

A tearful Buhai paid tribute to her husband – who had previously caddyed for her for eight years – in a moving interview after the win. After turning professional in 2007, the triumph at Muirfield marked a new all-time high in a “long journey”.

Despite three victories on the Ladies European Tour, Buhai – having never finished higher than 5th in a major tournament – ​​was still aiming for a maiden LPGA Tour win when she touched down in Scotland on Thursday.

The joy of ending this drought was only sweetened by claiming a $1,095,000 purse, boosting his career earnings to $3,503,926 and continuing a landmark year for prize money in the female golf.

Minjee Lee’s $1.8 million winnings from an all-time $10 million pot at the US Open in June was followed by another record purse at the PGA Championship, where Chun won $1.35 million dollars on a $9 million purse that had doubled from the previous year’s event.

Kim Joo-hyung, 20, of South Korea earns his historic first PGA Tour win

Along with the heightened media attention that comes with being a great champion, these are the kind of characters that are poised to turn Buhai’s world upside down.

“The money we’re playing right now…it’s been life changing for us,” she said. “We’ve never played for that amount of money, so the scholarships are great.

“I think I’m only going to realize that in a few months when things really start to hit home.”

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