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The Women's Sports Alliance

PRESENTS...

Ashleigh Buhai – From Amateur Wonderkid to Professional Golfing Glory

“I think the women’s game is in the best place it’s ever been,” 2022 AIG Women’s Open champion Ashleigh Buhai tells the WSA. “I hope to leave it in an even better position.”

Image courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf


Ashleigh was a teenage talent, whose sporting prowess was clear from a young age.


While cricket, football, field hockey and tennis were all school-age passions, she developed a clear affinity to golf in those formative years.


She loved hearing her father’s stories about the achievements of legendary South African players such as Ernie Els, Gary Player, Trevor Immelman, but something was missing.


“We unfortunately didn't get much women's golf in South Africa on TV while I was growing up,” Ashleigh recalls.


“The internet changed that and as soon as it did, I began to learn about the likes of Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies. And Lorena Ochoa.


“I think I knew from around the age of eight what I wanted and that was to be a professional golfer. I knew there would be sacrifices, but I knew they needed to be made.”


From teen talent to senior struggles

Images courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf


She had been inspired and was soon making history herself, becoming the first amateur player to win the Acer Women’s South African Open in 2004 before making her LPGA Tour debut two years later.


Ashleigh turned professional a day after turning 18 and – under her maiden surname of Simon – soon became the youngest-ever professional winner on the Ladies European Tour.


She was identified as a ‘rising star of the sport,' but that brought pressure and expectation which the Johannesburg-born player admits she found, at times, challenging to handle.


“I was hyped up to be the next best thing, especially from South Africa,” she recalls.


“Sure, I was nervous playing against some of my idols when they were still playing, as I began at such a young age, but we put them on a pedestal and while it was pretty cool playing among your role models you learn they’re just people underneath.


“I was able to create friendships with many of them and I’ve been lucky enough to have that longevity (in the game) myself now too.”


A long-awaited maiden major win

Images courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf


On 8 August 2022, during her 18th year on the LPGA Tour, the then 33-year-old finally achieved a lifetime dream by claiming her first ‘major’ title with a landmark success at the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield.


“I got off to a good start as a professional and on the LPGA Tour, but this game has a way of knocking you down and it’s about how badly you want it and how hard you’re willing to work to get back up,” Ashleigh states.


“In the moment (when she won), it all feels very surreal and the achievement probably only hit me a few days later.


“I had been so focused, but looking back on my career this is what I dreamed of and for it finally to happen, really was quite something.


“It made all of the practice and the perseverance worth it.”


Sustained success after 'breakthrough' victory

Images courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf / @aigwomensopen


The AIG Women's Open win proved to be a catalyst for further success and over the following eight months Ashleigh secured the Women’s Australian Open and the South African Women’s Open.


Then, in June, she warmed up for the defence of her British Women’s Open title at Walton Heath, by earning her second LPGA Tour victory – at the ShopRite LPGA Classic – her maiden success in the USA.


“I’ve been with my coach for 13 years and we made an effort for his to come to see me more at tournaments, but also the biggest switch was starting to work with a mental coach / sports psychologist,” Ashleigh states.


“It was the missing key because I've been swinging at so well, relatively injury-free and I've got a full-time physio, so everything was kind of where it should have been except, I think the mental game.


“Once I started working with him it was like a switch clicked and it just made me believe completely myself in my ability again.”


The 'returning champion'

Images courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf


The 2023 AIG Women’s Open will mark the first time she has entered a ‘major’ as a defending champion, a very different experience for the golfer and one she is relishing.


“It is pretty cool when you stand on the first tee and they go, your 2022 Woman's Open Champion and they read all your accolades, but you'll forever be called a major champion as that's the highest accolade in golf,” she says with a smile.


“I think the hardest part of the week will be you know, just trying to manage my time, because obviously there's going to be a lot of interest when you're defending champion going into any tournament.


“Obviously, I'd love to play well and try to defend and that is the goal, but I just have to remember throughout the week that I have a job to do and I’ll do my best.”

Images courtesy of @ashbuhaigolf


‘I want to leave the women's game in an even better place'


Ashleigh believes the women’s game is “the best it’s ever been,” but hopes the growth continues in the years ahead.


“In terms of the purses we're playing for, we always believe we could be playing for more money, but we're playing for the most it's ever been and sponsors are a really starting to back us,” the two-time major winner tells WSA.


“It’s a good business model to be involved in and they get a lot back from it.

Ashleigh concludes; “The game is in a great place and I want to leave it in an even better position than when I started.”

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