Playoff Win at Muirfield is first win on the LPGA
South Africa’s Ashleigh Buhai survived a tense, four-hole playoff with LPGA star and 3 x major champion, InGee Chun, to capture her first ever victory on the LPGA. Being a major championship made it even better for Buhai as she lifted the trophy at Muirfield, the first time that the famed course hosted the AIG Women’s Open. Muirfield first hosted the men’s Open Championship in 1892 and has since hosted it 15 x times since. She is also the third South African to win at Muirfield, joining Gary Player (1959), and Ernie Els (2002).
Buhai’s win was a long time in the making for the 33–year old from Joburg (Johannesburg), having turned professional in 2007 as an 18-year old. Speaking afterwards, she described her long personal journey.
“It’s been a long journey. You know, I turned pro when I was 18. I was kind of expected – there was a lot expected from me. I won straight off the bat on the Ladies European Tour. But this game has a way of giving you a hard time. I’m just so proud of how I’ve stuck it out. I have said the last four or five years, I’ve finally started to find me feet on the LPGA and felt I could compete, and although I’m 33 now, I feel I’m playing the best golf of my career. It’s been a long journey, but man, it’s all worth it right now.”
In some respects, the adversity that Buhai experienced in her professional career may have been her biggest asset on Sunday, especially when she made a bad tee shot on the 15th hole, ultimately costing her a triple bogey 7, dropping her into a tie with Chun. “It’s probably the worst swing I made all week (tee shot). Was a little quick on the top, but if I had half a lie in that bunker, I could have got it out the other way in the fairway. Obviously, (it) compounded the mistake. I didn’t panic, which I thought was huge, and just tried to make a good swing on the next (shot) and just try to make good swings coming in to give myself a chance.”
With three holes remaining in regulation, Buhai steadied the ship, finishing with three straight pars to force a playoff with Chun. The playoff format consisted of replaying the 18th hole until a winner emerged. The 18th hole, a 428 yard, par-4 was the second most difficult hole during all four rounds, playing an average of +0.428 strokes above par. In fact, during the week, more players made a double bogey or higher (28) than birdies (24) – the only hole that produced that level of difficulty. The consensus on playing the 18th hole is that a good tee shot is essential for avoiding a bogey or higher, meaning that tee shots need to find the middle of the fairway, avoiding the bunkers and rough that adorn both sides of the fairway.
During the playoff, Buhai managed to find the fairway four straight times, while Chun pushed her shot to the right bunker on the fourth playoff hole. Prior to that, she had split the fairway in impressive fashion. Unfortunately for Chun, she had to play out to the fairway, increasing the likelihood that she would bogey the hole. On her third shot, Chun found the green in impressive fashion, but she would have a lengthy putt for par.
Despite finding the fairway on all four occasions, Buhai’s approach shot on the fourth playoff hole was pushed right and into the bunker. It gave Chun a bit of respite, but when Buhai’s bunker shot was well executed, leaving her a very makeable 3-foot putt for par, it left Chun in the unenviable position of having to make a long putt to save par and force an extra playoff hole. Chun’s putt had a good line and appeared to be tracking to the hole, but came up just a little short, leaving her a easy 2-foot putt for bogey. Buhai then made her par putt and in doing so, became a Rolex First Time winner on the LPGA.
In speaking on her ability to consistently find the fairway during the playoff, Buhai said that she entered the week with a slight tweak to her swing to ensure that she could produce a reliable tee shot.
“I hit that fairway (18th) every day. It favours me. I fade the ball, wind off the right. I call it my little bunch shot, put the ball back in my stance and I just hit it low. I hit that shot so well the whole week except on 15. That was the only bad drive I hit all week. My thought this week was 40% percent to the top because that kept my rhythm and then everything else falls into place. As long as I have soft hand and 40% percent to the top, then I felt I was in control.”
For InGee Chun, it was another splendid result in what is proving to be a renaissance year for the popular player. At the end of June, she held strong on the final round of the KPMG event to win her first major since 2016. Today, she put together a solid performance to get herself into contention for the win – at one point, she was the clubhouse leader at –10 under. Even though she was not able to win the playoff, she was gracious in defeat and still satisfied with her performance and her season, saying that “At KPMG, I was happy to win. My fans, my sponsor, my family, they never give up on me and I really appreciate them.”
With her second place finish, Chun earned $673,700, taking her season winnings to $2.58 million. She also finished in second place in the Rolex Annika Major Award with 84 points. Minjee Lee won the award with a season total of 98 points based on her performance in all of the majors this season. Her performance also saw her crack the Top-10 in the Rolex Women’s World Ranking, moving up a notch into the 10th position.
For Chun, she now heads back to North America where she will play next at the CP Canadian Women’s Open from August 25 – 28, in Ottawa. Outside of the season ending CME event, the CP Canadian Women’s Open has traditionally been one of the biggest non-major events on the women’s golf calendar.