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11th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Buhai takes Investec SA Women’s Open with a victory lap

11 March 2023 – She savoured the applause during the walk on to the 18th green at Steenberg Golf Club on Saturday, and Ashleigh Buhai rewarded the crowd gathered there with a birdie to clinch the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship by a four-stroke margin.

In the end, the final round of Buhai’s fourth national title was something of a victory lap, as she started the day with a four-stroke edge.

Her four-under-par 68 to finish the Sunshine Ladies Tour and Ladies European Tour’s co-sanctioned tournament meant the gap was still four after runner-up Ana Pelaez Trivino of Spain also carded a 68.

“I’m over the moon, obviously,” said Buhai. “Ecstatic to have gotten the job done. My goal was to come here and win this week. I tried to play it down, because I know it’s a lot of pressure and it was going to be difficult to do. But now that I’ve got it over the line, I’m really happy.”

It hardly mattered that Buhai, the reigning AIG Women’s Open champion, dropped two shots in three holes down the finishing stretch, because she made five birdies on her front nine as her lead stretched to as much as seven at one point.

“It was great to start with a birdie on one, especially after making bogey there yesterday,” said Buhai. “I had good putts on two and three, and then made three in a row on four, five and six, and I just kept it going. And it was a good putt on nine for that birdie too.

While the bogeys may have irritated Buhai on some deeply personal level, the reality is that she had done the heavy lifting in the first two round, and was able to do enough thereafter to simply preserve her lead for the rest of a week which was something of a celebratory homecoming.

“On the back nine, I hit good shots, but I was kind of in between yardages,” she said, “and the wind got a little bit trickier. But luckily I had that big lead, and I could just hit it to the space on the greens and take my two putts. They had to come chasing and I did what I had to do to get the job done.”

After her putter seemed to have mutinied during the second round, Buhai took it on herself to put it in its place by hitting what seemed like every approach shot on the front nine to inside a few feet. While the big putts which took her clear of the field in the first two rounds were missing from her repertoire, she wasn’t too fussed. “I have my routine on the greens, and I have found that following that every time rather than worrying about whether the putt goes in calms me down a lot, and the results will come from the familiarity of that routine.”

Trivino took her second runner-up result in a row after she finished in a share of second in last week’s Joburg Open, and it was achieved by brave play throughout. “I felt really good this week and last week,” she said. “We’re making sure that every area is covered and then just go out there and have fun. Luckily, we’re playing good golf and we can enjoy it even more. I’m going to take everything to next week and hopefully get that win. I like runner-up finishes, but I’d rather have the trophy with me!”

In third after a closing three-under-par 69 was German teenager Chiara Noja, who, like Buhai, was hit by the stomach bug which hit many players in the field. “I’m really proud of myself that I managed to pull through this week,” she said. “After the first round when I shot 62, I was feeling really bad physically. I played decent golf today. I had so many missed opportunities and I finally didn’t miss the top 10. We’re back in business.”

Rookie Kaleigh Telfer eagled the last to finish the next-best South African in fifth on 11-under. Her closing 68 put her 11 strokes behind Buhai’s winning 22-under. Casandra Alexander closed with a one-under 71 to finish inside the top 10 in a share of seventh on nine-under.

For Buhai, the victory justified her decision to come home after a long stretch away from her United States base. “It’s always important for me to play this tournament when I can,” she said. “Unfortunately scheduling didn’t work out the last few years because of changes forced by COVID. But I’m happy even though it was at the end of a four-week run and I was a little tired at the beginning of the week, but obviously now I’m thrilled that I came home.

“I’m sure there will be a celebratory braai tonight. I’ve got a few family and friends here, and it’s going to be good to share this with them.”

She also shared it with the applauding fans, and, in a pointed gesture, she made sure to turn back to sign autographs for a young girl and boy who ran after her as she set off for yet another television interview.

10th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Buhai refuses to be blown off course at Investec SA Women’s Open

10 March 2023 – Ashleigh Buhai’s fighting spirit shone through on Friday when she carded a three-under-par 69 in defiance of the effects of a stomach bug in the third round of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.

While that paled in comparison with her opening 64 and her second-round 65, that she was able to overcome an opening bogey, make three birdies in the next four holes, and then hang tough in the face of the illness to finally make another birdie on the last hole of the day that left her four clear of her pursuers ahead of the final round of the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

“There’s a bit of a bug going around this week, and some of the players have got it,” said Buhai. “Unfortunately, I was one of them and I was up from 2.30 this morning. To get through today and shoot under par is pretty good and I’m very proud of myself.”

That string of 12 consecutive grinding pars from the sixth until the 17th came as her putter, which had been so hot for the first two rounds, cooled down significantly. She burned the edges enough to keep her interested, and the pars were enough to keep her ahead of Germany’s teenaged Chiara Noja and Spaniard Ana Pelaez Trivino.

Trivino carded a fine six-under-par 66 to climb to her share of third on 14-under through 54 holes, and Noja, who was Buhai’s closest pursuer at halfway, had a closing stretch meltdown of three bogeys in five holes from the 13th to the 17th as she signed for a three-under 69, having shared the lead with Buhai after the 12th hole.

Noja’s downfall seemed to start when she left an eagle putt on 12 just short, and, although she made birdie to draw level with Buhai, she seemed to be too keen to press home what she perceived to be an advantage. She pulled driver on the par-four 13th, a bold play which seemed destined for trouble when she pushed it right.

“Me trying to carry that bunker is not even an option,” said Buhai of the surprising play by Noja. “To be honest, if you hit it over that bunker, there’s no space anyway. I hit seven-wood, wedge downwind the way the hole played today, so I don’t really see the play.

“But that was a little opening and then, I thought if I could make my birdie putt there, it could be a two-shot swing. I hit a good putt, but it didn’t drop – story of my day!”

Noja then three-putted for bogey on the 15th, found the greenside bunker on the par-three 17th and was unable to get it up and down from there, and couldn’t make the most of a birdie chance on 18.

“I think I played a lot better than I scored,” said Noja. “Obviously, I’m a little sick and I got a little sloppy and tired. On the back nine, I could really feel it. I was just trying to get across 18 and go to sleep and recover for tomorrow and try to keep myself in contention as much as possible. I’m really gutted that putt on 18 didn’t drop because I hit it and thought it was going in.”

Behind the leading three, last year’s runner-up Magdalena Simmermacher from Argentina showed her class again with a second-consecutive five-under-par 67 taking her to fourth on 13-under. She was one clear of Alessandra Fanali of Italy, who also signed for a 67, and Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson, who had a 69 to move to nine-under and a share of fifth.

South Africa’s Casandra Alexander parlayed a hole-in-one on the second into a two-under 70 to move into seventh at eight-under and be the second-placed South African. Next-best of the South Africans was rookie Kaleigh Telfer, who was one shot behind Alexander in a share of eighth on seven-under after she carded a one-under 71.

For Buhai, the chase from Noja was a good bit of practice at focusing on the job at hand in the final round when she sets off in pursuit of her fourth title in her national open championship. “I like to think the calibre of shots I have will stand me in good stead tomorrow, especially with the wind,” she said. “She’s a great player. When she came out firing – and so did Maggie – I didn’t have the energy to fight back. It just showed that experience is important, and by staying patient, it definitely paid off.”

9th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Team Buhai soars at Investec SA Women’s Open

9 March 2023 – With her husband on the bag, as he was when she won the title in 2018, a relaxed Ashleigh Buhai posted a bogey-free seven-under-par 65 on Thursday to stretch to a four-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.

The reigning AIG Women’s Open champion missed five of 14 fairways, and hit 15 of 18 greens in regulation, but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the serene way she went about her work.

Of course, it helps when you’re putting sublimely, and, with just 26 putts for the second round in a row, once she hit the front, there wasn’t much doubt that she’d be in the lead going into the final two rounds of the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

“It’s always good fun to have Dave on the bag,” Buhai said. “He caddied for me for eight years, no-one knows my game better other than my coach Doug Wood. It’s good when we can do these one-off weeks together every now and then.”

In her first round, she made a bogey, and for her second trip around the course, she managed to minimise errors completely.

“It is always a good day when you have no bogeys, so that’s first things first,” said Buhai, who is taking aim at what would be her fourth national open title. “My front nine was a little bit of a slow start, and I got a bit unlucky on number five when I hit the flag and it ricocheted all the way back down the green. I stayed patient and then managed to finish birdie-birdie on the front nine.

“The golf course is staying soft, so you can be a bit more aggressive, but the pins were a little bit more tucked today. At the same time, I had to be patient. I felt myself trying to push a little bit and then on seven, I hit it left and I said to myself to just hit it to my spaces and the birdies will come and that’s what I did on the back nine.”

In second place was the German teenager Chiara Noja, who fired a course-record 62 in the first round to top Buhai’s opening 64. The 16-year-old Noja, who already had a Ladies European Tour title behind her name, was only able to grind out a one-under-par 71 in the second round which she started in heavy early morning rain.

There were four players in a share of third on eight-under-par, including last year’s runner-up Magdalena Simmermacher from who out lost to Lee-Anne Pace in an epic six-hole play-off. The Argentinean had perhaps the round of the day with her five-under in the very challenging early morning conditions.

Spaniard Ana Pelaez Trivino, who also had a five-under, but much later in the day, Nastasia Nadaud from France, who signed for a two-under 70; and Dutch golfer Romy Meekers, who also carded 70 share third with Simmermacher.

Backing up Buhai’s efforts for South Africa were rookie Kaleigh Telfer and Casandra Alexander.

Telfer was impressive with a bogey-free three-under-par 69, and Alexander, who has won twice on the Sunshine Ladies Tour this season, overcame a bogey on the 10th with five birdies on her way to a 68. They were on six-under for the tournament in a share of sixth.

With the two South Africans were Johanna Gustavsson from Sweden, who had a 72, England’s Gabriella Cowley, who had a 69, and compatriot Lily May Himphreys, who leads the Investec Order of Merit on the Sunshine Ladies Tour after her win in the Joburg Open last week. Humphreys birdied the final hole for a round of 71.

The cut to 60 and ties fell at level-par, leaving a field of 60 professionals and South Africa’s No 1-ranked amateur Kyra van Kan to battle things out over the final 36 holes. For Buhai, things look pretty rosy with a four-shot lead, but she knows that things can change in the blink of an eye. “I’ll need to keep doing what I’m doing,” she said. “I will stick to my process and stick to my steps and try and stick to my thoughts that I have in my swing, that’s all I can control and hopefully the outcome will be what we want.”

8th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

German precision nets Noja course-record at Investec SA Women’s Open

It was a display of precision golf from Germany’s Chiara Noja on Wednesday as she soared to a course-record 10-under-par 62 to take a two-stroke lead in the first round of the Investec South African Women’s Open Championship at Steenberg Golf Club.

The lanky 16-year-old Noja, who finished 12th in a stellar field in the LPGA’s Aramco Saudi Ladies International just a few weeks back, hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation as she made an eagle, nine birdies and a bogey to relegate Ashleigh Buhai’s opening eight-under-par 68 to second place.

“It was just very consistent golf in general,” said Noja. “I didn’t feel like I was swinging it incredibly well, so I was just trying to put myself in good positions for birdies. My putting’s good, definitely. To hole some of those putts was really good. My wedges were on point, and that’s what I’ll be trying to do going into the next few days. Depending on the wind, we’re going to see exactly how much I need to go under.”

While her wedge play was outstanding, there was plenty more to catch the eye about her game.

Any good score depends on making putts, and she had 27 putts in her 18 holes, including just 12 on the front nine. But her driving also caught the eye, and on the par-five fifth, she boomed it out there to 292 yards.

It was those shots into the greens that were attention-grabbing, and that was no fluke.

“Over the last two years, I’ve spent a lot of time working on my wedges,” she said. “I used to really struggle with that. I didn’t really get to practice it much. Over the winter, I’ve done a lot of wedge work and a lot of the shots I have learnt to hit, I didn’t have in the bag at the start of the season. There’s been growth in that sense, and also trusting myself a little better. I’m just trying to commit to everything.”

After Buhai’s morning heroics, Noja’s score was the only significant shake-up on the leaderboard from the afternoon field in the tournament co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Lades Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

On six-under, and in a share of third, were Johanna Gustavsson of Sweden, France’s Nastasia Nadaud and Romy Meekers of the Netherlands.

Joburg Ladies Open winner and reigning Investec Order of Merit leader Lily May Humphreys from England was back in the mix with a flawless five-under-par 67 to sit in sixth, and six players were in a share of seventh on four-under, including the next-best South African after Buhai, Nadia van der Westhuizen.

Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace opened with a two-under-par 70.

The story of the day, however, was Noja’s. “Obviously, I’ve had school, so I’ve not been running around crazy, but the work I have done in between lots of studying has mainly about trying to be healthy and try to make things repeatable,” she said. “I’ve also been working on getting shots into my bag for those in between distances that I didn’t have last year, and that’s really helped me for the last three months.” With uncertainty in the air about the weather over the next few days, Noja was reluctant to say how she might approach the rest of the tournament. “I’m going to show up, make the best of everything, of every shot, and whatever comes out comes out,” she said.

| Sunshine Ladies Tour

Two braais in a row and an afternoon on a couch

8 March 2023 – Home comforts as well as the best opening nine holes of her career propelled Ashleigh Buhai to an eight-under-par 64 on Wednesday 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 seven-under-par 29.

There was a dropped shot on the third – 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 they was 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.

7th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Buhai in it to win it as Investec SA Women’s Open kicks off

7 March 2023 – Ashleigh Buhai may have won a major championship, but she wants to win any tournament she enters and that’s a shot across the bows of all the players in the Investec South African Women’s Open which tees off at Steenberg Golf Club on Wednesday.

The winner of the title in 2004, 2007 and 2018 won the AIG Women’s Open last year and has risen to 18th on the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings returned to South Africa to play in her national open championship for the first time in three years.

Co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour and the Sunshine Ladies Tour, this 30th anniversary of the Investec South African Women’s Open coincides with the 10th anniversary of the local circuit in its current guise, and Buhai knows it won’t be an easy victory lap.

“I know there’s going to be pressure on me this week,” she said. “I think everybody expects me to tee it up and win, but that’s not golf. We can’t guarantee anything. Hopefully I can just go out there and keep doing what I’ve been doing; stick to my process, my steps, and the outcome will come.”

Amongst her chief challengers is a woman who has dominated the Investec South African Women’s Open to an even greater extent than she has.

Defending champion Lee-Anne Pace has won the title five times, and the tournament is one which she quite deliberately attempts to peak for. In addition, Pace loves the windy conditions which are almost always encountered at Cape Town courses.

She will be a formidable hurdle for Buhai to overcome if she is to win a fourth title.

Additionally, there have been younger players, for whom Buhai has become a role model, if not a mentor, who have emerged over recent times, and are hungry for success at a higher level.

The likes of Casandra Alexander who is a two-time winner on the Sunshine Ladies Tour this year, and rookies like Kaleigh Telfer and Kiera Floyd, will be keen to end their Investec Order of Merit campaigns on a high. And there’s nothing higher for them than this title.

Buhai’s contribution to the growth which has produced this situation cannot be overstated.

“I don’t know how much part I played, but hopefully a little bit,” said Buhai. “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 trend in women’s golf around the world. All prize purses are starting to increase.”

The Sunshine Ladies Tour played for R1.075-million in its first year in 2014, and the purses this year total R16-million. “With six tournaments on the tour now, the next step would be if we could get it to double figures at least,” said Buhai. “And also, not just to have February through March, because to be able to play all year around is what these girls need. So, if you have two tournaments a month at least, you know, they will have game time. The purses might not be what they are during this stretch, but being able to play, getting that game time is hugely important.”

Of course, as the major winner she is, Buhai’s example is one admired by more than just her compatriots. From the ranks of the players from 28 other countries represented in the field, there is certain to be a handful who could challenge for – and even win – the title.

Chief amongst those is the leader of the Investec Order of Merit on the Sunshine Ladies Tour, Lily May Humphreys of England, who won the Joburg Open last week, a tournament also co-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour.

But Buhai brings the best early-year form of her recent past with her, so toppling her won’t be easy. She finished seventh last week in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore, following a top 10 in the Honda LPGA Thailand in February and a tie for ninth in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in January.

“I’ve always tried to play the Investec SA Women’s Open when I could,” said Buhai, “but the change in the date over the least three years has made it difficult. This year, with it falling in an off week, I’ve made the effort to come back, and I am excited to get the show on the road.”

So are we, Ash, so are we.

6th March 2023 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Investec SA Women’s Open arrives in City of Cape Town

6 March 2023 – The Investec South African Women’s Open Championship will add to the kaleidoscope of international sport that has enthralled Cape Town and the world when it tees off on Wednesday at Steenberg Golf Club.

It’s the 30th time the tournament is being played, it’s the 10th anniversary of the Sunshine Ladies Tour, which co-sanctions the event with the Ladies European Tour, and it is the sixth time the tournament will be played in Cape Town. Hot on the heels of global cricket, yachting and motorsport events, players from 29 countries will showcase their talents on a stage set amongst some of the finest scenery the Western Cape offers.

Said Cape Town’s mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis: “It is so encouraging to see women’s golf – and women’s sport in general – getting the exposure and the attention it deserves. This tournament will see world-class golfers battle it out over 72 holes for a total prize money of R5.9-million, thanks in great part to the continued sponsorship of Investec. And they will do so against the stunning backdrop of our Constantiaberg mountains.”

Heading up the world-class field is the reigning AIG Women’s Open champion, Ashleigh Buhai, the world number 20, who is returning to South Africa to play in a tournament she has won three times.

“It will be an opportunity for up-and-coming golfers to put their stamp on the game and announce themselves to the world, as they take on some of the biggest names,” said Mayor Hill-Lewis. “Just look at the career of Ashleigh Buhai, who won this tournament way back in 2004 and then again three years later, when she was still a young amateur. Since then, she has become a household name in the game and has done our country proud on the world’s biggest stages, including her spectacular play-off win in the Women’s Open at Muirfield last year.

“She’ll be back at Steenberg, leading this strong field, but she will know that the next Ashleigh Buhai could be standing behind her on the tee box, waiting to grab her opportunity.”

In addition to the up-and-coming players in the field is the five-time champion Lee-Anne Pace, who seems to reserve her resilient best for the championship. She took the last two titles in a row, once at Westlake Golf Club, and last year at Steenberg.

There are also four other former winners of the tournament in the field, in Alice Hewson of England, India’s Diksha Dagar, Norwegian Marianne Skarpnord and South Africa’s Tandi McCallum.

The up-and-coming players include the four winners on this year’s Sunshine Ladies Tour circuit. South Africa’s Casandra Alexander has won twice, in the SuperSport Ladies Challenge and the Jabra Ladies Classic; Moa Folke of Sweden took the Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am; England’s Hayley Davis won the Cape Town Ladies Open, and Lily May Humphreys of England won last week’s Joburg Ladies Open.

All of those victories were signals of strong careers ahead of them. There are also rookie amateurs who have been acquitting themselves well through the season: Chief among them are South Africans Kaleigh Telfer and Kiera Floyd, who lie fifth and ninth respectively on the Investec Order of Merit of the Sunshine Ladies Tour. Telfer has had two top-10 finishes, coming fifth in the Dimension Data Ladies Pro-Am and third in the Jabra Ladies Classic, while Floyd came second in the Cape Town Ladies Open and fourth in the Joburg Ladies Open.

“I have no doubt that the Investec South African Women’s Open will do a fantastic job of selling not only the game of South African women’s golf to the world, but also our beautiful and vibrant city,” said Mayor Hill-Lewis.

| Sunshine Ladies Tour

SA Womens Open qualifier a breeze for Ruiz

6 March 2023 – Spain’s Laura Gomez Ruiz carded a one-under-par 71 at Steenberg Golf Club on Monday to lead five qualifiers into the main draw of the Investec South African Women’s Open, co sanctioned by the Sunshine Ladies Tour and the Ladies European Tour.

Ruiz was the only player who dipped into red figures on a blustery Cape Town morning, making three birdies and two bogeys to top the field by one stroke from Katja Pogacar of Slovenia and fellow-Spaniard Elena Hualde.

Ruiz, who has played on the Ladies European Tour for four years, and is in South African for the fourth time, drew on experience at Steenberg to top the leaderboard. “I played the course last year, so I knew it from before and that helped,” she said. “It’s very tricky, especially these greens. Uphill and downhill, it makes a big difference, especially with the wind. If the wind was from behind, the putt was really fast.”

While the wind made things tricky, Ruiz had recent experience of much tougher windy conditions to draw on. “Two weeks ago, I played the Cape Town Ladies Open at Atlantic Beach, and that was brutal,” she said. “It was the hardest conditions I have ever played in my life. So today, this wind was a breeze. It was a one-and-a-half to two-club wind.”

It was the wind that saw her drop a shot on the first hole. “I don’t know why, but it was super windy on the first hole,” said Ruiz. “After the first hole, it calmed down a bit. The birdie on seven, it was 145 metres downhill, and I hit an eight-iron. I usually hit my eight-iron 125. On 11, I hit a really good driver, and I was between clubs, and I hit the wrong one. I went over the green, and then I chipped in. The last three holes where I made par, they were quite tough, especially with the wind. On 17, downhill, downwind, 128 metres, I hit a pitching wedge, which I usually hit 110.”

The other two who made it into the field of 132 who will tee off on Wednesday were Helen Kreuzer from Germany and Nigeria’s Georgia Iziemgbe Oboh, who returned rounds of two-over-par 74.

For Ruiz, topping the qualifier is a chance to make up for her performance in last year’s Investec South African Women’s Open. “I did not make the cut last year – I was two or three off,” she said. “I know what to expect this time.”

30th March 2022 | Sunshine Ladies Tour

Pace in touch as Simmermacher leads the way

Two late birdies in her opening round lifted four-time defending champion Lee-Anne Pace within three shots of Magdalena Simmermacher, who stole a march on the field on a wet and windy opening day in the Investec South African Women’s Open.

The 26-year-old Argentinian made the most of the gentler morning conditions and fired in an opening salvo of four-under-par 68 pull clear of the field.

After a birdie start on the par-4 10th, Simmermacher plodded to the turn in pars, but turned on the fireworks over the last five holes, firing four birdies to transform her round into a field-leading effort at Steenberg Golf Club.

The 2020 Olympian finished one slender shot clear of Sweden’s Josefine Nyqvist and Alice Hewson from England, who also took advantage of an early start.

But unlike her challengers, the Argentine blossomed on her back nine as the wind gathered speed.

“I’m really happy with today’s round; I gave myself a lot of opportunities on the back nine, my front nine, but I only managed to make one birdie,” Simmermacher said.

“On the front nine I left myself chances close to the pin, and that’s why I ended up making four birdies on the last five holes. I played better when the wind got stronger. I’m not sure of the reason – maybe because you have to hit a certain shot, so you just focus on that.

“We played the pro-am with tough conditions so that was good preparation. I struggled on the greens last week, but I was still playing good and today I managed the pace better.”

Having given herself some time away during the off-season as she returned to South America, she has wasted no time in getting back to her best in 2022, giving herself a solid start in the Race to Costa del Sol chase. 

Augusta University graduate Nyqvist dropped only one shot on her opening hole but shot up the leaderboard with a quartet of birdies on her outward loop. Ten straight pars from the ninth kept her within striking distance of the pacesetter.

“Today was a really nice day,” she said. “I struggled a bit in the last two tournaments, but I’ve been working at it and trusting what I do, and I guess today it paid off, so I’m very happy. I did some technical work in the off-season, but mostly I’ve been working on keeping my mindset clear and trusting what I’m doing. I’m just trying to stay positive and live in the present. 

“The first nine wasn’t too bad because I teed off early, so I got lucky there. The wind picked up on the back nine, and it was hard out there. You just have to stay focused on every single shot. I just tried to hit the centre of the green and play par golf. I left some birdies out there, so I’m excited to go out and get them tomorrow.” 

Hewson, who broke through for her maiden LET victory in the 2020 Investec South African Women’s Open, was an equally happy camper after putting herself in a promising position.

She made a brilliant start with an eagle on the par-five 12th and sandwiched a birdie between bogeys on 13 and 15 to out in 34. Birdies on her 15th and 17th holes saw her pull level with Simmermacher, but not even the bogey finish could darken her bright smile.

“I’m very happy with how I played this morning. It was really windy out there, especially on our back nine, but I managed to control my ball height well really well,” the Englishwoman said. 

“It was important to hit fairways and greens just to give yourself a few chances out there, and I made the most of some of the chances I gave myself, so hopefully more of the same tomorrow. I have some incredible memories of my first LET start and win in 2020 and it’s great that I’ve finally been able to come back. I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”

Just two off the pace, lurking at two-under are Sweden’s Johanna Gustavsson, Anne-Charlotte Mora from France and Spanish duo Elia Folch and Carmen Alonso and Carmen Alonso, with a further seven players locked in on one-under, including 2021 champion Pace.

Level through the turn, the 41-year-old negated a bogey on the par-3 second with a brace of birdies on her 16th and 17th holes to put herself back within touching distance of Simmermacher.

She shares eighth with another former champion, Marianne Skarpnord from Norway, as well as

Lora Assad and 2021 Joburg Ladies Open champion Casandra Alexander and Lora Assad sit at level-par with last week’s champion Linn Grant from Sweden, among others, and the next best South African is reigning SA Women’s Stroke Play champion Kiera Floyd, who grabbed a share of 22nd with former Investec Order of Merit winner Nobuhle Dlamini on one-over.