Lali Stander – KOSTER, 12 March 2017 – All good things come to those who wait, but nobody told Ashleigh Buhai it would be quite so hard to land the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies title on Sunday.
It finally happened for Buhai when she put the perfect pace on 12-foot clutch putt for birdie at the final hole at Millvale Private Retreat. When the ball hit the bottom of the cup, the 27-year-old Edenvale golfer sunk to her knees and pumped both her fists.
For a moment, joy and relief jostled for position on her face before she broke into a smile as big as the moon.
“I can’t believe I’ve done it,” gushed Buhai after she signed for a 71 to edge out main rival Nicole Garcia for the 2017 series title with a second place finish at four-under-par 212 in Sunshine Ladies Tour season-finale.
The battle for the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies came down to Buhai, Garcia from Benoni and Kiran Matharu.
The Englishwoman led the rankings coming into the final event, but slipped out of the running with rounds of 76, 71 and 75, leaving the two Ekurhuleni golfers to battle it out.
Garcia had a one shot edge over Buhai at four under at the start of the round. Ranked fourth coming into the final, she had to keep that lead to win the series as Buhai was ahead of her in second place in the points standings.
Both golfers had two bogeys and two gains over the first eight holes, but Buhai took the lead when Garcia dropped two shots at nine and bogeyed 10. After both players birdied 11, it was Buhai’s turn to surrender two shots at 12.
Tied at two under, they both played the next two holes in pars. Gains for both at 15 kept the title chase perched on a knife’s edge and, after more pars and near-misses at 16 and 17, it all came down the par-four closing hole.
“I don’t think anyone could have scripted the title fight any better,” said Buhai. “Nicole and I were still dead-locked at three under and I needed a birdie finish to putt her under pressure. Nicole hits it so long and straight that an eagle was a definite possibility.
“I hit a solid drive down the fairway and I took on the flag. I had 12 feet left for the birdie, but it was tricky. It broke left to right, but I knew if I got the pace spot on, the ball would take the break. And it dropped!”
Garcia hit a monster drive down 18 and hit the front edge of the green with her approach. Her first putt came close, but par meant a round of 71 and third overall on three under 213.
“It was a tiny bit weird to stand there with the crowd,” Buhai said.
“On any other day, I would have been right next to the green cheering Nicole on. She played really solid golf this week. She never let up and I congratulate her on a very fine season.”
Meanwhile South Africa’s top golf export Lee-Anne Pace made a little Sunshine Ladies Tour history of her own.
After winning the season-long series title for three successive years, the Investec Property player was not in the race this season, but that didn’t stop her. Her two shot overnight shot lead never came under threat and she notched a trio of birdies on the back nine to close with a one under 71.
Pace celebrated her 10th visit to the winner’s circle on the Sunshine Ladies Tour with a two shot victory on six under 210 and finished third overall in the Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies.
The winner-takes-all cheque worth R100 000 also rocketed her to the number one spot in the Final Order of Merit with earnings of R229 195 in six starts.
“I was disappointed that I was out of this year’s Chase but I am really, really pleased to be leaving for the LPGA Tour on a winning note,” said Pace.
“I found something with my irons and putter here at Millvale and it was a fantastic final. The standard of golf on the Sunshine Ladies Tour was really high this season and it’s was amazing to see so many new winners emerge. I loved the competition and I hope the tour just grows bigger and better.”
210 – Lee-Anne Pace 68 71 71
212 – Ashleigh Buhai 69 72 71
213 – Nicole Garcia 69 71 73
217 – Nobuhle Dlamini (SWZ) 73 70 74, Bonita Bredenhann (NAM) 73 69 75
219 – Carrie Park (KOR) 75 73 71, Lejan Lewthwaite 73 74 72
221 – Kim Williams 73 72 76
222 – Kiran Matharu (ENG) 76 71 75
226 – Tandi von Ruben 79 73 74