‘Off you go’: how Open champion made Australia her own

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British Open winning South African Ashleigh Buhai leaned on a love-affair with the sandbelt which stretched back to her teenage years to seal Australian Open glory after surviving a scare in a nail-biting finish down the stretch on Sunday.

The 33-year-old shot a fourth-round 73, finishing 12-under to hold on for a one-stroke win on a day Minjee Lee was the only member of the final top five to improve her tally.

The reigning British Open champion claimed the cup alongside husband David, who stepped in as her caddie for the tournament in a triumphant tale of golfing romance. Buhai also became the first South African to win the event.

She finished a stroke clear of South Korean star Jiyai Shin, with Australian trio Hannah Green (10-under), Grace Kim (nine-under) and Lee (eight-under) rounding out the top five.

The win backs up August’s British Open feats, capping her most remarkable year since she turned pro a day after her 18th birthday in 2007. Buhai said it was special winning in Australia – a country she’s been visiting to play golf since she was 13.

“My parents put me on a plane and said, ‘Off you go’. We used to laugh about it because obviously we come from South Africa, and everyone knows sometimes it can’t be the safest place. My dad was more worried about me going to the movies but at 13 years old, put me on a plane to go overseas by myself. It doesn’t quite make sense,” she laughed.

Australian Open winner Ashleigh Buhai has been playing golf in the country she was 13. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)Australian Open winner Ashleigh Buhai has been playing golf in the country she was 13. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

“I’ve always loved coming back here. There’s a lot of South Africans, so I’ve always stayed with friends and family. It was very cool they all decided to come here and supported me for the week.

“It was a way to see them and play on these two fantastic golf courses. I’m a golf nut, so any opportunity to play on courses like these, it’s been fantastic.

“It’s pretty cool that my name is on this trophy as well as the British Open with a lot of greats.”

Buhai embraced husband David as she sealed victory, later crediting her caddie for keeping her “in the moment” through her last few holes.

“He (David) said, ‘Well, whatever happens I want you to commit to every shot and no matter what the outcome is, that’s all you can do’, and that’s what got me the job done at the British this year,” Buhai said.

Buhai’s caddie and husband kept her calm down the stretch. Picture: Michael KleinBuhai’s caddie and husband kept her calm down the stretch. Picture: Michael Klein

“And that’s all I tried to focus on the whole day. But the wind was tricky today and he just kept me calm. I think once I knew I had a one-shot lead, I felt pretty comfortable.”

She took the lead early on Sunday as playing partners Shin and Green stumbled, before three bogeys through her back nine – she suddenly struggled to hole putts – reopened the race for the cup.

But Shin’s birdies on hole 15 and 17 weren’t enough to retake the lead after her early fourth-round woes, while rising star Kim, who looked likely late, trapped herself in bunkers on both 17 and 18.

Fellow leading group members Shin and Green struggled to negotiate the 33-degree heat and 40kph wind gusts to the same standard as Buhai early, consigning themselves to a game of catch-up through the back nine.

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Shin, chasing her second Australian Open crown – she won the event in 2013 – shot herself out of reckoning with five bogeys over her first 13 holes, before delivering a late scare with two birdies down the stretch.

Requiring a birdie on the 18th to tie for first, raising the possibility of a sudden-death round with Buhai, Shin narrowly missed the putt. It sealed the South African’s 17th professional win.

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