At some point on Friday, you had six players tied for the top of the leaderboard, including LPGA Hall-of-Famer Inbee Park, crowd favorite Jessica Korda, “Smiling Cinderella” and 2019 AIG Women’s Open champion Hinako Shibuno, And the three-time main champion and winner of this year’s KPMG Women’s Championship in Ji Chun, Sweden’s Madeleine Sagstrom, who finished second at last year’s AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie, and Ashley Buhay.
Wait, you might say if you’re a regular fan of the women’s game: Ashleigh Buhai? One of these things is not like the other. Please explain.
Of course the response comes. Ashley Buhay may not be a household name. But she’s a player you need to know.
Buhai is 33 years old and has been a steady presence on the LPGA Tour since 2008. Although she hasn’t won yet, she was not in danger of losing her card. And if you cruise along the back of the driving range for a tour event, their golf swing will have you stopping and staring. Smooth and rhythmic, Buhai has the kind of movement that fans refer to as and say, “If only I…”
She definitely had fans saying that and so much more on Friday at Muirfield. Oblivious to the wind, Bohai blasted off early with four birdies and an eagle on her first nine holes to come out on 30, the best nine-forward result in the first two days by a few shots.
Her first hiccup came on the twelfth day as she missed her spot as she approached a few inches away. In the best courses, that’s all it takes. Instead of catching a ridge on the right side of the green and rolling into the hole, Bohai’s short iron grabbed the wrong side of the ridge and rolled into a green bunker. But, as if she was playing a friendly round on Tuesday afternoon, she jumped to 10 feet and rolled in a prominent throw as if it was a flick.
She got a break at 16 with a shot on the tee that could have ended up in trouble but found the roughness instead. From there, she hit the back of the green, effortlessly cranked her nearly eight-foot birdie, and once again poured a comeback ball into the center of the hole with a hit that seemed to produce 14 wins instead of 14 seasons without one.
The only drop of the day came at last when an imperceptible lie hit her in the aisle with the enormity of her situation. The cut approach ended in a cross vault. From there it exploded long and ran up and down for a bogey to end the day with a 65-shot, a shot off the lead held by Chun, and tied Sagstrom at 7-under.
“I remained very patient,” Buhai said. “Hold onto my steps and my processes, which is my goal this week, just do it well and hope the result will take care of itself. I’ve been doing really well for the past few weeks.”
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa (Ashley married longtime tour carrier David Bohay in 2016), Ashley Simone had an impressive amateur career, winning four professional events before turning professional including the 2004 South African Open at the age of 14, An event she won again as an amateur in 2017. Since then, Ashley has secured a runner-up spot at the 2019 Cambia Portland Classic. Her best result in a major tournament was a solo fifth place at the 2019 AIG Women’s Open in Woburn where She drove after the second round.
“Every time you’re in this position, you get to know a little bit more about it,” she said after posting the low round of the championship on Friday. “Woburn is obviously very different, parks as opposed to links. But I love playing golf. This is my favorite tournament of the year. I am looking forward to it, and I just – love golf links and the creativity you must have.”
Buhai earned two top 10 spots in 2022, including a fourth at the LOTTE Championships in Hawaii where there are no days when the wind doesn’t blow. Her crunchy nature that never gives up should fit her well if conditions worsen over the weekend.
She also has a friend and mentor who can draw on her experiences at Muirfield.
“I know Ernie[Else]won here (in 2002),” she said. “We were playing on our training run, and I said to my caddy, ‘Let’s see how Ernie hits the ball. I was working on YouTube while we were there, his famous vault shot.
“I haven’t spoken to Ernie recently, but now I live full time in Florida and I’ve had to play with him a little bit. He’s been my hero growing up. It’s great to be able to play so well in the first two rounds here and try to follow in his footsteps.”