If one had to judge her performance in the opening round of the Cape Town Ladies Open on Tuesday, the honeymoon might be over, but Ashleigh Buhai is having a whale of a time in the Mother City after giving her husband the boot.
The couple tied the knot last December, but after seven years of wearing her bag, David got the boot after last week’s Ladies Tshwane Open.
‘We’ve split up, but only on the golf course,’ laughed Buhai after she and new bagman Johan Swanepoel toured the par-74 layout at Royal Cape Golf Club layout in three under.
England’s Lauren Taylor and former Cape Town Ladies Open champion Stacy Bregman spoiled their chances to share of the lead with a pair of bogeys at 17 and finished one shot shy of Buhai.
American Hannah Arnold and Tandi von Ruben tied for fourth at one under, with defending champion Lee-Anne Pace a further stroke adrift in the bus at even-par 74.
It was hardly surprising to see Buhai at the top of the pile in the fifth counting event on this year’s Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies. She enjoyed runner-up finishes in her first three starts season – the SA Women’s Masters, SA Women’s Open and Ladies Tshwane Open last week – but now the pressure is on Swanepoel to walk her into the winner’s circle on Thursday.
‘I won’t put it all on Johan, but yes, I’d love for us to get that first win this week,’ Buhai said.
‘We decided before we got married that we would split in 2017 and David is going to work for Pernille Lindberg from Sweden when we go back to the USA to compete on LPGA Tour.
‘I reconnected with Johan when he caddied for Lee-Anne last year and he was the natural choice to take over from David. He is very experienced and David and I agreed the time was right to split.’
Swanepoel was on Dawie van der Walt’s bag when he lifted the Nelson Mandela Championship title and won on the Web.com Tour and he also caddied for European Tour player Dylan Frittelli.
‘We were together for seven years, so it was weird without David this morning and I was a little anxious at the start,’ Buhai said. ‘I bogeyed the first two holes and Johan just quietly told me to trust my shots. As soon as I birdied the fourth, I was back in my routine and we got on with the job.’
Birdie number two at the par five seventh took Buhai to the turn in level par.
She ripped a three-wood to set up birdie number three at 11, but short-sided herself at 12 and walked off with another bogey. She corrected course with another gain at 14 and finished strong with a brace of birdies at 16 and 17.
‘I hit my tee shot just left of the fairway at 17 and had a sandy lie, but I smashed a sand-wedge to 15 feet and holed the putt,’ Buhai said. ‘I had a good birdie chance at 18, but the putt lipped out. ‘The wind was really worrisome. It gusted from early on and at times, we were playing against a two club wind and had to go one club higher to play with the wind on the back nine. After the start, I just wanted to get it back to level, so finishing at three under was a bonus.’
Like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and other Nike-sponsored players, Buhai also had to start the season with brand new equipment after Nike pulled out of the market and she switched to Ping woods, Srixon irons, Cleveland wedges and a Srixon ball.
‘It was quite an adjustment at the start of the season, and I struggled with a few things,’ she said. ‘My coach, Doug Wood, worked with me at Zwartkop last week and we sorted out the distance issues. The club chances was for the better, though, because now I’m hitting it a club longer. It feels good to be striking the ball with some confidence again and I’m really pleased with the start I’ve made in Cape Town.’
Gauteng’s Chiara Contomathios matched 75s from Slovakia’s Laila Hrindova and Bianca Wernich from Western Province to grab a share of the amateur lead. The trio tied for 11th with professionals Nobuhle Dlamini from Swaziland, reigning SA Women’s Masters champion Carrie Park from South Korea, rookie Ivanna Samu and Melissa Eaton.
By Lali Stander