While England’s Lily May Humphreys won the 2023 Investec Order of Merit in the 10th season of the Sunshine Ladies Tour, three South Africans finished in the top five, underscoring the importance of the burgeoning circuit for local players.
Humphreys played all six tournaments, won one, had four other top 10s, and her worst finish was in the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club when she shared 24th.
South Africa’s Casandra Alexander played four, won two – the SuperSport Ladies Challenge and Jabra Ladies Classic – and a share of seventh at Steenberg saw her finish second in the rankings, within striking distance of Humphreys at the end.
The other South Africans who rounded out the top five were Sunshine Ladies Tour rookie Kaleigh Telfer, who had three top 10s as she successfully mixed it up with the best players from Europe, and veteran Lee-Anne Pace, who did everything but win with four top 10s.
In a nice little bit of symmetry, the two other South Africans inside the top 10 of the Order of Merit were rookie Kiera Floyd in ninth with two top 10s, and the more experienced Nicole Garcia in 10th place, who also had two top 10s.
“It’s pretty cool to win the Investec Order of Merit,” said Humphreys. “I’m pretty happy about it. It’s been as good as I’ve played. It’s been a lot of golf, a lot of different golf courses, and different weather pretty much every week. I’ve really enjoyed it out here.
“I ran out of steam a little towards the end. It wasn’t my best golf over the last few days at Steenberg, but I’ll just reset and get ready for what lies ahead. I’ll definitely come back and play these events again. I’ll have to see how the schedule looks because I’m a winner now. I’ll have a full schedule on the Ladies European Tour, which is pretty exciting.”
And this is exactly the pathway that makes the Sunshine Ladies Tour such an important route for budding professionals.
Humphreys got her win in the Joburg Open, co-sanctioned between Africa’s premier women’s professional circuit and the Ladies European Tour. It was the fifth event of the 10th season and she had played her way into a position to win and leapfrog her way into the big time.
And while it was AIG Women’s Open champion Ashleigh Buhai who won the other co-sanctioned tournament, Telfer was able to convert her top-five finish in the Investec South African Women’s Open into a start on the main Ladies European Tour circuit with a place in the Aramco Team Series-Singapore the following week.
That is a stepping stone that could be decisive in her budding professional career.
Buhai talked about the importance of the local tour ahead of her victory at Steenberg.
“Obviously it’s fantastic to see how it’s grown, how the sponsors are starting to support women’s golf in South Africa. And you can see it in the trends in women’s golf around the world. All prize purses are starting to increase.
“I think it’s so important to have these events for the local girls to be able to compete in, so they play on better courses, with a stricter setup that compares well with the international circuits, and in stronger fields so that they know when they’re ready to take that next step and where they really need to be.
“With six events on the Tour now, I think there’s space for growth. I think if we could get it to double figures at least would be great. And also not just to have the circuit from February through April, but to extend it. They need to play all year round to prepare better for the next level. Maybe two a month at least. We understand that the purses might not be what it is in these big events, but it’s more just about being able to play, getting that game time.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you’re playing for, or how big or small the tournament is. When you’re in that moment, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same pressure of you trying to win a golf tournament.”
The groundwork for growth has been laid. The women played for R1.075-million 10 years ago, and for over R16-million this year on the Sunshine Ladies Tour. The six tournaments are all big in their own right, and the way forward is clear. Roll on 2024!