#ExtraTime Ladies golf in SA still has a long way to go

Top-ranked South African ladies golfer Ashleigh Buhai speaks to EWN Sport about her time as an amateur, the challenges she has faced on the LPGA Tour and the status of ladies golf in the country.

FILE: Ashleigh Buhai. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG - As part of EWN Sport’s #ExtraTime feature we continue to focus on golf and on the women’s game in particular.

Ashleigh Buhai is the top-ranked female golfer in the country and has 3 wins on the European Tour.

Born and raised in Bedfordview on the East Rand of Gauteng, Buhai said she picked up golf from an early age.

“From about the age of six golf really stuck with me. At that age I was telling my dad that I want to go to the driving range and hit golf balls, so from a young age it's always been in my blood. Growing up I loved all sports but for some reason golf stood out more, I think maybe it had to do with the fact that it was more of an individual sport and you have to rely solely on yourself and can't cop out if you have a bad day,” she said.

After a very successful amateur career where she was the youngest player to win the ladies’ South African Amateur Stroke Play and Match Play double, Buhai turned pro at the age of 18 in 2007.

While she credited her achievements as an amateur, and how her time on the circuit prepared her for the professional game, Buhai said one of her biggest achievements so far was her fifth-place finish at last year's British Open.

“I played in the final two rounds in the final group and for me that was as close as I have come to touching a Major trophy. Although I finished fifth, which was disappointing, to be in contention and be in touching distance and get that feeling was huge for me to know that I can do it,” she said.

Having been a professional for over 10 years now, most of which has been on the LPGA Tour, Buhai said that despite the growth of the women's game in South Africa, there was still a lot of work to do.

“We don’t see as many girls coming through at the moment. They only really have about eight tournaments a year and then they tell themselves, 'OK I’m going to go to q school (qualifying school)' but they haven’t played competitive golf from March to October. That’s where it’s difficult at the moment and one of the reasons why we aren’t seeing girls coming through. It’s not their fault and we just don’t have tournaments or a demand for it. There aren’t enough girls locally for them to put on a tour throughout the whole year,” she said.

Buhai married her husband in 2016 and said at times it was challenging having him as her caddy on the tour.

“There’s no better feeling than when you are doing something together, but also when are you doing it well, it feels like such an achievement. Unfortunately, when things aren’t going great and you’ve missed six or seven cuts in a row, it's difficult from both sides and it puts a lot of extra pressure on me because I’m the one earning everything and all our eggs are in one basket,” she said.