Ashleigh Buhai shot an eight-under-par 64 in the opening round of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.
The reigning AIG Women’s Open champion made seven birdies on her front nine after starting on the 10th to turn in a seven-under-par 29.
There was a dropped shot on the 3rd – her 12th – and two more birdies, and she was two shots clear of her nearest challengers after the morning field had all handed in their scorecards in the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Ladies European Tour.
“I got off to a great start, making three in a row, lipped out on the fourth and made a bomb on the fifth,” said Buhai, who has won the title three times already, with her last triumph coming in 2018 just down the road at Westlake. “It was a very hot start, and the best front nine in tournament play in my career – never shot 29 before.”
It was just the start she would have wanted after having flown in from Singapore on Monday. “Travel is just part of the job, it’s what we do, but I did feel on Tuesday that I was still at 3,000 feet,” she said. “With the quick turnaround and the Wednesday start, it might have been nice to have got another day of rest, but it is what it is. But to have my family here, and my husband’s family is great. We’re in an Air B ‘n’ B, we’ve had two braais back-to-back, so we’re very happy.
“But after this first round, I’m really excited to go sit on a couch this afternoon. I didn’t get to do that yesterday, with the pro-am and practice. I stayed out a little later, because I just felt I needed to get the feel of the tweak I did with my putter, but I’m very glad I did and put in the work, because it paid off.”
It was her putting which saw her surge clear with that opening birdie-burst which consisted of three in the first three holes, one on the fifth, and then three in a row again from the seventh. “I had a putting lesson yesterday,” said Buhai. “My coach Doug Wood came down for two days and it was nice to see him after not seeing him in about five weeks. We just touched up a few things and made a little tweak here and there, and it paid off straight away.”
The heat evaporated somewhat on the back nine as it drizzled throughout her round, but the fast start had already set her up. “I hadn’t seen the front nine, so I played it blind, and I don’t feel I committed as well as I didn’t on the other nine,” she said. “It showed on the tee shot on three, where I made bogey, but after that, I just trusted Dave, my husband who is on the bag this week. He told me where to hit it and I listened to him.
“My back nine played a little more trickily. I had some longer clubs in and there was a little bit of wind, especially on the last three holes. My goal was to get it to nine-under once I got it back to seven, but those last three holes, you had to hit some good shots coming in.”
Buhai will start the second round two shots back from 16-year-old German teen, Chiara Noja, who blitzed the course in 10-under 62.
On six under are Johanna Gustavsson from Sweden, France’s Nastasia Nadaud and Romy Meekers from the Netherlands and a further shot back, on five under, is last week’s Joburg Ladies Open winner and Investec Order of Merit leader Lily May Humphreys from England, the only player in the top six to produce a bogey-free round.
Next best of the South Africans was Nadia van der Westhuizen, who finished on four under together with Scotland’s Kylie Henry, Luna Sobron Galmes from Spain, Denmark’s Smilla Tarning Soenderby and Agathe Sauzon from France.
Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace started her campaign for what would be a record-extending sixth championship title with a two-under-par 70, a score she shared with South African Casandra Alexander, who has won twice on the Sunshine Ladies Tour this season.
They all have their work cut out for them if Buhai continues to score the way she started: “I wanted to play from a calm place, and to do my steps and processes,” she said. “I have four steps in my routine, and I have my one swing thought, and as long as I commit to that swing thought, that’s all I can do – I can’t affect the result. I do know if I keep doing that with the swing, and with the feel I had with the putter today, maybe seven out of 10 times, it will produce the result that I want.