Ashleigh Buhai continues to ride changes to success, wins ShopRite LPGA Classic

June 11, 2023

Drew Hallowell

In October 2021, Ashleigh Buhai’s longtime swing coach, Doug Wood, visited her at the Cognizant Founder's Cup. He pointed out that something was not right. He believed Buhai was swinging too well not to be finding success.

That discussion led to Buhai's adjustments to her team and her game, primarily focusing on a process-oriented approach rather than a results-based one. Those changes delivered the South African a one-stroke victory at the Shoprite LPGA Classic at 14 under par on Sunday, sealing the win with a final round six-under 65 in Galloway, N.J.

It was Buhai's fourth victory worldwide in the last 10 months, including both of her career LPGA titles, just over 100 miles away from Buhai's career-altering conversation with her coach.

"I didn't want it to be a one-hit wonder," Buhai said. "I wanted it to be the start of something. And I think luckily I've been able to continue it and keep up that trend."

Buhai, 34, trailed by three at the start of play Sunday at Seaview Bay Golf Course. She bridged that gap quickly over the first two holes. Dani Holmqvist, the 36-hole leader, bogeyed the second after the South African opened birdie-birdie. Buhai's fast start fueled the flames of a blistering five-under opening nine, giving the 2022 AIG Women's Open winner a two-stroke lead with nine to play.

Hyo Joo Kim would be the only player to tie Buhai on the back nine, matching her on No. 11. The South Korean fell to two back after bogeying the 12th.

Kim, for mere moments, got within a stroke of Buhai with a birdie on the par-3 17th. Buhai, knowing a birdie would fend off a likely playoff, promptly responded with an up-and-down for a clutch birdie on the par-5 18th. The 2014 Evian Championship winner needed an eagle on the final hole to match Buhai. Her third from the fairway parked just inches from the cup.

"Obviously if you hear a big cheer then you know, OK, we're going into a playoff," Buhai said. "And I heard that it was very close to in the hole. Hats off to Hyo Joo. She knew she had to hole it and gave it her best shot."

Kim's runner-up is her first start since the the eighth-ranked player in the Rolex Women's World Rankings represented South Korea at the Hanwha LifePlus International Crown a month ago.

Buhai credited her four victories across different tours dating back to last August's AIG Women's Open win for her composure down the stretch. Alongside the Shoprite, Buhai won the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open last December on the WPGA Tour of Australasia and the Investec South African Women's Open on the LET in March.

"I had the same feelings at Muirfield except I was able to hold it down the stretch a little bit, which was something that only comes from experience," Buhai said. "I've put myself in that position four times in the last eight months, and every time you get a little bit more comfortable in that position."

Buhai's work with sports psychologist Duncan McCarthy, starting last February, let her tackle the issues permeating her mind. At that point, in her 15 years on the LPGA, she hadn't won yet despite immediately winning in Europe as a professional. Buhai carried expectations of being South African golf's next star, fielding comparisons to Ernie Els and Gary Player. She wanted to start a family at some point.

Unpacking those fears and allowing her to be happy with herself as a person turned into success on the golf course. Since May 2022, when Buhai explained she committed fully to the new process, she's earned her two LPGA titles, eight of her 19 career top 10 finishes, and playing the best golf of her career.

"The last 18 months have just been a factor of putting it all together and surrounding myself with all the right people, and it's definitely paying off."