10 questions with Ashleigh Buhai – from Nando’s dinner to following in the footsteps of Ernie Els

South Africa's Ashleigh Buhai on the 10th tee during day four of the AIG Women's Open at Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland, on August 7. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/BackpagePix

South Africa's Ashleigh Buhai on the 10th tee during day four of the AIG Women's Open at Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland, on August 7. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire/BackpagePix

Published Aug 9, 2022


Centurion – AIG Women’s Open Champion Ashleigh Buhai answered 10 questions from IOL Sport golf writer Michael Sherman following her breakthrough victory at Muirfield on Sunday.

Buhai, 33, won her first major following a four-hole play-off with South Korea’s In Gee Chun and has been on cloud nine ever since.

As Buhai began packing her clubs for her next journey across the pond, the newest South African major champion took time out of her busy schedule to chat about the biggest week of her life – so far.

Question 1: You’ve had some time for the win to sink in and process it, what does the Women’s Open victory mean to you, and how have you, or are you planning to celebrate?

Buhai: It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours, but to be called the AIG Women’s Open champion is mind-blowing and a dream come true. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in. Last night we finished so late, by the time I got back to all my family and friends that stayed, so we just celebrated in the players pavilion.

Question 2: You hardly missed a shot the entire final round, even on 15 – you were just stymied in the bunker and then got a shocker of a lie in the rough which led to the triple bogey. Not many players would have been able to put that behind them, how were you able to refocus and get the job done?

Buhai: I had my processes and steps I tried to focus on the whole week. As hard as it was, I just tried to stay in that moment – and was like ‘Okay, we haven’t lost it, we still have three holes to go and we’re tied for the lead’. My caddy also said, ‘We’ve still got three holes – no worries, you just keep doing your thing’. I made one bad swing, which was the tee shot that found that bunker on 15. If I had half a lie I would have been able to play it out to the fairway and make bogey. It was a bit of bad luck, but I just had to dig very deep to give myself a chance to get into a play-off.

Question 3: Tell us a bit more about your support group, your mental coach Duncan McCarthy, your caddy Tanya Paterson and your husband David who obviously was on your bag for a long time himself.

Buhai: Every professional athlete has a team around them. With golf being such an individual sport, when you finally achieve and win – people only see that. But there’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes.

My parents gave me the opportunity to do this from a young age and believing in me. Few parents would believe a 7-year-old saying they want to be a professional golfer. My first coach was Gavan Levenson, and I’ve been with my current coach Doug Wood going on 13 years now. He’s been such a strong person to lean on during the good and bad times. He always believed I could achieve something like this.

Then there’s my husband David. He’s been through all the tears, good times and bad times. He chose to give up his life and be on tour with me, which I can’t thank him enough for.

Then my caddy Tanya, we’ve been good friends for about seven years and we’ve been working together for six years. She used to caddy for Laura Davies. She’s so good at her job and keeping me calm, and keeping things light hearted which is exactly what I need.

Recently Duncan McCarthy came on board. He’s helped to give me that extra edge when I need it, and give me the tools to cope with the pressure. And the situation on 15 – if I hadn’t started working with him four or five months ago – I don’t think I’d have been able to handle that situation like I did.

Question 4: what do you think your win will mean to women’s golf in South Africa, and women’s sport in South Africa?

Buhai: I’m hoping that it inspires people, for a young girl to pick up a club and take up this game, or a young boy – it doesn’t matter. For sport in general, I hope people take more notice and coverage … We don’t get enough coverage of the women’s golf unfortunately. It’s become a lot better, but I think what was fantastic is that this was the same time zone as South Africa and a lot more people got to watch it every step of the way. And I had everybody on the edge of their seats for a while.

Question 5: You slept on a big lead (five shots), how difficult was it in the final round knowing you had a target on your back and the expectations placed on you?

Buhai: I was actually surprisingly calm, on Saturday evening going to bed - I was staying in a house this week with another player and my physio. We took it easy, we played some Uno and had Nando’s which was a nice South African dinner.

Sunday was always going to be a hard morning. I was nervous, but once I got to the course I settled down and started to feel comfortable. Once I started to warm-up everything felt the same. And I felt I played so good on Sunday and the way I handled the moment. Even though I was one-over par up until 15, everyone was struggling. For me to handle the situation like I did, that was what I was most proud of.

Question 6: You came close (tied fifth) in the 2019 Women’s Open, what did you learn from that and what was different this time?

Buhai: That taught me I could compete at the highest level and be in contention. 2019 was very different because it was played at Woburn which is a parkland course so it was pretty much like what we played every week in the states (US). This being links, it’s such different golf and you just shrug off the bounces you don’t get. You can hit a great shot and get a bad bounce and a terrible shot and get a good bounce, you just have to go with the flow. 2019 taught me how to manage the situation, handle the pressure and made me believe that I would be able to do it.

Question 7: How does winning a major change your long-term goals now?

Buhai: I need to reassess as I’m now exempt for five years, it takes so much pressure off me to be able to plan my schedule. Plan all the majors. This year I didn’t get into the US Open although I’d had a pretty steady year. Now that my world ranking is up, I don’t have to worry about any of that. I play a lot of golf, and now I will be able to take one or two more weeks off. What I’ve done this year is have three weeks on, one week off. It’s benefited me much more that I’m fresh going into a run of tournaments. That’s what I did for these weeks and it paid off.

Question 8: The last time a women’s golfer from South Africa won a major (Sally Little in 1988) was before you were born. Now that you’re a major winner, how do you feel about being a role model to the next generation and ensuring that more young girls take up the game?

Buhai: I’m honoured that I could be called a role model and that girls would look up to me. I wish I could go back to South Africa now and enjoy this feeling and ride, and sit with my family and friends. Unfortunately I have to get back to the states (US) and be in Canada in 10 days time for our next tournament.

Question 9: Before your victory, it had been 10 years since a South African golfer won a major on the men’s side - how special is it that, that the first South African player to win a major in 10 years is a women’s golfer?

Buhai: It’s pretty cool. The men have dominated for so long. I haven’t been able to go through all my messages, but I’ve seen a lot of the South African men congratulating me. I had a voice note from Gary Player earlier in the week. Ernie was the last to win at Muirfield. They say things are meant to be … Ernie won in 2002, I won in 2022. It was his 41st major start, it was my 43rd. We both held a 54-hole lead, maybe the stars aligned for me and things were just meant to be.

Question 10: Lastly, does this change your playing schedule? What does your schedule look like for the next few weeks?

Buhai: I always had planned on having the next two weeks off and then play three weeks in a row, before taking another week off. I might end up adding an event at the end of the year, I might go down to Australia to play in a tournament there. But my schedule will stay busy, and I don’t plan on missing any tournaments.


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