Ashleigh Buhai Closes With 65 To Win ShopRite LPGA Classic

GALLOWAY, N.J. (AP) — As she entered her 30s, Ashleigh Buhai was frustrated with consistently contending but never winning on the LPGA Tour. There was nothing wrong with her swing, so she began working with a mental coach.

Now at the cusp of 35 on a tour dominated by players a decade or more younger, the South African is playing the best golf of her career.

Buhai seized the lead early with four birdies in her first five holes, got up and down for one last birdie for a 6-under 65 and held off Hyo Joo Kim for a one-shot victory in the ShopRite LPGA Classic on Sunday.

“I was touted to be — I had a really good amateur career and was going to be the next best thing out of South Africa, but that’s — golf is just not like that all the time,” Buhai said. “I kept plugging away. I have a good support system around me, which I think is the most important thing.”

It was the fourth win worldwide over the past 10 months for Buhai, who finished at 14-under 199 in the 54-hole event on the Bay Course at Seaview. Buhai won the Women’s British Open last August for her first major and first LPGA Tour win, and since has added titles in Australia and South Africa. She entered the week ranked 16th in the world.

At 34 years, 11 months, Buhai is the oldest winner this year on the LPGA Tour.

“It’s huge. My goal this year was to win in the U.S. I hadn’t won here yet,” Buhai said. “I’m very proud of myself for ticking it off.”

Buhai recalled a visit from longtime swing coach Doug Wood in October 2021 as the start of her turnaround. Wood couldn’t find any issues with her mechanics and put her in touch with mental coach Duncan McCarthy.

“I think I’ve also got to a point where I’m older in my career. Felt I should have achieved more by then and the pressure I was putting on myself. Again, I’m 34, so wanting to have a family,” Buhai said. “These things sit in the back of our minds that nobody really knows about and you don’t realize what havoc it plays back there. COVID, not being able to go back to South Africa, see my friends and family was also really tough.

“So we kind of tapped into all that, really got Ashleigh, the person, feeling better again.”

Playing in the penultimate pairing, Buhai began the day three shots behind leader Dani Holmqvist. By the time she rolled in a long birdie from off the back of the green on the par-4 fifth hole, she led by one over Kim.

“Obviously I got off to such a good start, and the putt on 5 was a hallelujah,” Buhai said. “Those things need to happen for you to win, obviously.”

Kim, in the final pairing, birdied the par-3 17th to give herself a chance, but she needed to eagle the par-5 18th to match Buhai and could only manage birdie. She shot 68.

Rookie Yan Liu closed with a 67 and finished third, three shots back. Her previous best finish was a tie for 21st last week at the Mizuho Americas Open in Jersey City.

“Last week I talk with my family and my coach, and he just tell me, ‘You don’t need to watch cut line. You need to try to win,’” the 25-year-old from China said.

Holmqvist went bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-bogey on Nos. 2-6, closed with a 1-over 72 and finished in a tie for fourth, four shots back. The 35-year-old Swede is winless on the LPGA Tour.

Nanna Koerstz Madsen (65) matched Holmqvist at 10 under.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been up there, so just really happy,” Koerstz Madsen said. “I just really wanted to finish well and not finish with something stupid, so was happy to close out with a birdie.”