We all see the emotions. We all feel the drama. When a player wins for the first time, or captures a maiden major championship, intensity radiates like an electric charge. At some level, you feel what they feel. You live and die with each step, each breath, and each shot. Whether on the ground or watching at home, you engage with the moment.
What you don’t see is what comes after. Once the trophy ceremony is complete; once the speeches are given, the recognitions doled out; once the fans file out of the grandstands and onto the waiting buses, back to their cars, their homes, their regular routines, what happens then? Is the winner left standing in the dark with a trophy and a smile? And if so, what feelings go along with that?
Ashleigh Buhai got the answer to all of those questions after making the AIG Women’s Open her first career win. Buhai stood on the 18th green at iconic Muirfield after outlasting In Gee Chun in a playoff that sailed to the edge of night, and in that moment, she asked herself, “Okay, now what?”
“I think the emotions straight afterwards, you don't really know what's happened,” Buhai said on Tuesday morning in Ottawa at the CP Women’s Open, her first start since becoming a major champion. “It just hits you and then you have a few days to reflect. I've had some time and managed to watch some the highlights, fast forward and kind of watched the playoff. Actually more wanted to see my husband's reaction because everybody was talking about him and how funny it was.”
David Buhai, who caddies for Jeongeun Lee6, did, indeed, put on a show that Sunday in East Lothian. Like an outsized version of what fans at home were feeling, David rose in cheers and fell in agony with each shot Ashleigh hit that afternoon.
Now, she has to adjust, to reset to life as an LPGA Tour winner and major champion, a player who put her stamp on history, becoming the first woman to win a major title at Muirfield.
“It was definitely a different feel when I walked in yesterday,” Buhai said of her arrival at the CP Women’s Open. “Obviously, I hadn't seen a lot of people, so the first 45 minutes was quite cool with everybody congratulating me and my caddie. And then I was trying to just slowly get back into it. I haven’t touched a club once since the (AIG Women’s Open) so there was a little rust yesterday; but today felt a lot better.”
The game is coming around, but she still has a lot of things that are new.
“I was just in the parking area and I was backing up and the lady was like, ‘Hey,’ and I thought I had done something wrong, and she's like, ‘You just won The Open Championship, didn't you?’ She was just saying congratulations,” Buhai said. “So, yeah, few more people have definitely noticed me. Few more autographs to sign. It's a pretty cool feeling to have.”
She will have plenty of opportunities to savor those feelings in Ottawa. The CP Women’s Open has sold more than 70,000 advanced tickets for the week, a record for the event. Buhai will receive more than her share of ovations from gracious fans.
“I've always loved playing in front of crowds, and in Canada we've always had phenomenal support,” she said. “I’m hoping they'll come out in numbers and we have a great weekend, and even Thursday and Friday. … But I’m honestly not expecting too much out of this week only because I haven't done much.
“Also, I have been playing through an injury, so (the time away) gave me time (to heal) a little bit but still not 100%. So we'll see. This week I felt like just start getting back into it and let the rust come off. I will try and obviously cope and emulate the stuff I did at the Open.”
As for David and how things have changed in his life, Ashleigh just smiled and said, “He's working, thank goodness. I think we were both ready to get back to work. We had some good celebrations. But he's happy to be back out for sure.”