Ashleigh Buhai ended her season on the highest of notes, overcoming the hot, gusting winds of Western Australia to finish 12-under par and capture the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open by one shot, making her a double national champion in 2022.
Just as she did at Muirfield in the summer when she won the AIG Women’s Open, Buhai had to make a short par putt on the 18th to beat a former major champion. In Scotland, it was In Gee Chun in a playoff. In Australia, she needed the little putt to beat Jiyai Shin in regulation.
When she poured the par into the final hole at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne, Buhai became the first player since Yani Tseng in 2011 to win both the AIG Women’s Open and the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in the same year. This was also Buhai’s first multiple win season outside of her native South Africa.
Like her victory in Scotland, this one came down to the wire for Buhai. Trailing Shin by a shot going into the final round, Buhai was able to open up a lead on the front nine on Sunday, the windiest conditions of the week. She shot 1-under par 35 to get to 14-under, three ahead. But the gusting breeze and firm conditions sent scores skyward in the late afternoon. Three bogeys for Buhai from 10 through 16 opened the door for Shin, Hannah Green, and Epson Tour graduate, Australian Grace Kim.
Kim put on the best run, making par after par on the back nine to reach 11-under and tie the lead. But just as Buhai was making a birdie on the 17th to reclaim the lead, Kim made a mess of the par-5 18th, pitching out sideways from a fairway bunker and then taking three putts for double bogey.
That left Buhai and Shin to battle down the final hole. Shin had a birdie putt to send the event into a playoff that looked good all the way. But at the last moment, the ball skirted the left edge, leaving the former Rolex Rankings No.1 a shot back.
When Buhai made her par, her husband Dave Buhai, who normally caddies for Jeongeun Lee6 but was on Ashleigh’s bag this week, grabbed her in a bear hug.
“It’s the cherry on the top, I guess,” Buhai said before becoming emotional. “Sorry, it just hit me.
“And obviously, at the last minute, to have Dave on the bag, it’s very special to be able to celebrate together. He was good today. It was a bit easier for him being inside the ropes than outside the ropes. You’re a little bit more in control. We walked off 16 and I think by then I was tied for the lead and he said, ‘Whatever happens now, I want you to commit to every shot. No matter what the outcome is, that’s all you can do.’
“That’s what got the job done at the British this year. That’s all I tried to focus on the whole day. But the wind was tricky today.”
Dave was in the gallery during the closing moments of the AIG Women’s Open, agonizing over Ashleigh’s every shot. In Melbourne, she gave him credit for making the victory possible.
“He just kept me calm and I think once I knew I had a one-shot lead I felt pretty comfortable in a way,” Ashleigh said. “But then Jiyai hit it close on 18. But (Dave) was just really good at keeping me in the moment, because I do get a little nervy out there, for sure.”
Green was low Australian, finishing alone in third at 10-under par, two behind Buhai and one ahead of Kim. Minjee Lee put together four under-par rounds to finish 8-under and alone in fifth, while Marina Alex was low American, finishing 5-under par and in a tie for eighth with Australian Stephanie Kyriacou.