28th February 2014 | Sunshine Ladies Tour
SA breakthrough for Simon on Sunshine Ladies Tour
Ashleigh Simon ticked a pro win on home soil off her bucket list when she claimed the second Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies at Glendower Golf Club on Friday.
Simon’s decision to withdraw for the Mission Hills World Ladies Championship and support the newly-launched Sunshine Ladies Tour was rewarded when she nailed a six-footer for birdie at the closing hole to put the seal on a superb final round seven-under-par 65.
The 24-year-old Joburg golfer finished on a winning total of nine-under-par 135, four shots clear of fellow Ladies European Tour campaigner Stacy Bregman and five ahead of European number one, Lee-Anne Pace, who matched Bregman’s 68 to take sole third on four under 140.
In a prolific amateur career, Simon won five WPGA events between 2004 and 2007, including two South African Women’s Open titles, but her first professional win came two months after she joined the paid ranks at the Catalonia Ladies Masters on the Ladies European Tour (LET).
Simon lifted the Portugal Masters title on the LET in 2011 and in December, claimed a LPGA Tour card for this season, yet none of these achievements could top measure up to the joy of winning in front of her peers and a very loud, and supportive home crowd.
“Nothing beats winning at home, and to come home to Glendower, where I played for eight years makes this first win in South Africa so much more special,” gushed Simon, who is an honorary life member at the home of the South African Open Championship.
“Thanks to the WPGA for giving us a local Tour to compete on again and thanks for giving me the chance to win in front of my family, friends and fans. This is why we’ve come home, to support the Tour and to help it grow.”
Simon began the final round in a tie for the lead with Tandi von Ruben, but sounded a stern warning to the chasing pack with a four-birdie start.
She knocked in a 15-footer at the eight for birdie and erased a three-putt bogey at the ninth by boxing a 10-footer for birdie at the 10th. “I only learned I was leading when reached the 15th tee and then I thought I was just one shot ahead of Stacy,” Simon said. “I knew I needed a birdie to open up the gap, and I made a great up-and-down from the bunker to give myself a little space.”
The gap had actually increased to three shots after Bregman dropped a shot at the 15th.
Simon, believing she needed to make par after finding the right fairway bunker at the 16th, hit a superb trap shot from an awkward downhill lie just short of the green, chipped to six feet and drained the putt for par. At the par-three 17th, she pitched her tee shot 35 feet pin high right and the ensuing putt shaved the hole, leaving her with a tap in for par.
“I just started playing with the new Nike RZN Platinum balls and in the first round, I airmailed to holes in the first round, because I’m hitting my irons a full club further,” Simon said. “Dave (Buhai) and I spent some time on the driving range to get the distances right and we got in spot on the final round.
“I knew I had a three-shot lead when we got to 18 and I spit the fairway with my tee shot. I wanted to finish with a birdie for myself, Dave and the spectators and I hit the sweetest six-iron to six feet.
“I was nervous over that putt, though, but it felt so good when it hit the back of the hole. Some of the credit for this win has to go to Dave, who is just the best caddy and boyfriend in the world, but some credit has to go to the Nike RZN’s, as well.”
Now Simon is looking forward to The Els Club Copperleaf, which will host the R100,000 Ladies Tshwane Open on 3 and 4 March.
“I’ve never played a tournament at Copperleaf, but this win has me hungry for more, so I’m really glad about my decision to come home and support the Sunshine Ladies Tour.”
KwaZulu-Natal amateur Michaela Fletcher claimed her second Chase to the Investec Cup for Ladies “title” as the leading amateur with rounds of 77 and 69 to finish 11 shots behind Simon. Her nearest challenger was Mae Cornforth, who finished on 151 with round of 74 and 77.