Why Ashleigh Buhai Says The 15th Hole Is The Toughest

When South African golfer Ashleigh Buhai shot a 64 in the third round of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield in the summer of 2022, she described it as the best round of her life.

It left her five shots clear and although there was a five-stroke swing on the Sunday, with South Korean player In Gee Chun shooting a 70 to Buhai’s 75, the world number 27 prevailed in a playoff. After 11 wins on the Sunshine Tour on her home continent, and a further three victories in Europe, this was her first success on the LPGA (co-sanctioned with the European Tour).

The 33-year-old from Johannesburg talks RSNG.com through that game, plus shares why the 15th hole is the toughest…

RSNG You said that the round of 64 which you made on the Saturday at Muirfield was the best of your career. What made it so special?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI, SOUTH AFRICAN NUMBER ONE “I think to do it on that big stage in the Women’s British Open, the fact that the weather wasn’t the greatest out there, with the wind swirling around and that it put me five shots clear.

“I mean, playing against the best players in the world and being able to perform to that level, made me feel very proud of what I produced. It made all of the hard work and practice feel so worth it.”

RSNG You set the record for the joint-lowest three-round score at the course – 199. Was that the icing on the cake?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “Yes, winning is nice, but to have something else; something that is truly tangible and history-making like that, was and is very rewarding.”

RSNG When you shot a 75 on the Sunday, were you concerned that you might have thrown it all away?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “Obviously, I had to win it via a play-off, but just to win the event was a brilliant feeling; in the end it doesn’t matter how you got there.

So much of my improvement has been in making sure I constantly remind myself of a process when I get up to address the ball

“I was confident that my game was in good order because I had been working on my swing and it felt right, yet of course I wasn’t happy with how I played on Sunday by shooting such a high score; and yes, a little of me was hoping that In-gee didn’t go below 70. Thankfully, that was the case, and I was able to win it during the extra efforts on the 18th hole.”

RSNG Do you feel you succumbed to a bit of the pressure?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “No I don’t think that – I just feel that sometimes a bad round follows a good round.

“I’ve always believed it’s important to start your next round well. If you do, you manage to carry some of the momentum from the previous good round.

“If you don’t, you are immediately looking for answers as to why you can’t replicate what you were doing the day before, and that can be physically and mentally unsettling. It happens, I’m ok with it.”

RSNG Back to technique then, and you mention your better swing. How did you manage to keep that going in such blustery conditions?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “I have been working on it a lot with my coach, and the swing has improved to such an extent that I feel comfortable with it in many different conditions. It’s more to do with making sure it’s a repeat action.

“It’s not a radical method either. So much of my improvement has been in making sure I constantly remind myself of a process when I get up to address the ball.

“I count 1, 2, 3, swing to 40%, hold it at the top and then I can be confident that when the club comes through the downswing, it’s where it should be. Luckily, the ball went where I wanted it to go that day!”

Winning is something that doesn’t happen on the day – it’s an emotion that only really settles within you in the days and weeks afterwards

RSNG How vital is keeping your composure?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “It’s all part of the game. I had some real trouble at the 15th on that final day and I just kept telling myself that if I made good swings at the ball, I would give myself the best possible chance of staying in front by the time that I got to the 18th.

“So, I decided that the fourth shot on the 15th hole, having landed in a fairway bunker, I would play with a wood, and I got a much better connection for that shot and the ball landed on the front edge of the green.

“I didn’t catch the ball with the chip towards the pin as well as I would have liked and a few people have said that maybe I should have putted the ball instead, to clear my head.

“However, I felt that was the best way of getting close to the pin and it just wasn’t to be. I went with a chip because that part of my game had been really good all week and I felt like it was the way to go.”

RSNG A lot of golfers feel there is something about the 15th hole that can haunt players. Would you agree?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “It’s a strange hole, always. You are well past the turn and the 14th still feels the last part of the middle section. The 15th is where you know the opportunities to make up ground are almost gone; yet when you’re in front at that stage you’re not yet in the home straight.

“Psychologically, along with the first and the last, I think it’s one of the toughest holes. A round can fall apart at the 15th and there’s still time for a lot of damage to be inflicted!”

RSNG Did the magnitude of what you had achieved strike you straight away?

ASHLEIGH BUHAI “No, it really doesn’t hit home for a while.

“Personally, winning is something that doesn’t happen on the day – for me, it’s an emotion that only really settles within you in the days and weeks afterwards, which is a shame really because by that point everyone else has moved on [laughs], but that is the way it is.”

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Photos: REX