Well, that was quite an epic. It took the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers 275 years to admit female members. 

The first staging of a professional women’s event at Muirfield just about lasted as long. We jest, of course, but this was a titanic tussle. In the fading light of an East Lothian evening, Ashleigh Buhai finally triumphed at the fourth play-off as she claimed a major maiden triumph at the 43rd attempt and thwarted In Gee Chun’s bid for the career grand slam.

Buhai certainly earned it the hard way. Five shots clear overnight, the South African was still three ahead with four to play until she endured a shattering triple-bogey seven on the 15th which obliterated her advantage. That she emerged from that calamity with the ultimate conquest spoke volumes for her spirit and resolve.

“After that triple bogey I didn’t panic,” said a jubilant Buhai after earning the prize of some £907,000. “It would have been easy to come back in an ambulance but I stayed calm.”

Twenty years ago, Buhai’s South African compatriot Ernie Els took five play-off holes to win The Open at Muirfield. Here in 2022, Buhai battled through four sudden-death shoot-outs with Chun to join Els and Gary Player as players from the Rainbow Nation who have found the pots of golfing gold in this neck of the woods. “It’s a dream come true,” she added.

Given the advantage Buhai had heading into the final round, the chasing pack just about needed rods, hooks and tackle to reel her in. In this game, of course, no lead is big enough and when Buhai leaked a shot on the second, the rest were given early hope. Chun was at the vanguard of the assault and three birdies on her first six holes narrowed the gap to just one. The chase was on.

Hinako Shibuno had recovered from back-to-back bogeys with an eagle on the fifth to keep herself in it but Chun’s challenge suffered a severe dunt when she spilled shots on 10 and 12 to fall three behind. Buhai was keeping it steady as the pressure mounted while Shibuno’s double-bogey on the 14th was a savage blow to her ambitions.

The wounds inflicted on Buhai by her disaster on the 15th, though, just about required stitches. That triple-bogey plunged her into a tie for the lead and the title race was wide open again. Chun had birdie chances on the last three holes to inch ahead while Buhai kissed the cup on 17 then had to hole a brave par putt on the last in a 75 to join Chun at 10-under, one ahead of 2019 champion, Hinako Shibuno.

The play-off was absorbing. On the first go down the 18th, Chun conjured a tremendous shot from the sand to salvage her four, then fluffed her chip at the second play-off hole but survived with a bogey. At the third time of asking, Buhai’s birdie putt to win it slid narrowly by. Would it ever end?

Finally, at nearly 9:15 pm, it did. From the greenside bunker, Buhai produced the shot of a champion and splashed out to two-feet. When Chun missed her par-putt, Buhai tapped in to seal a remarkable victory.

Away from the gasping, late night drama, there was a morale-boosting finish for West Kilbride rookie Louise Duncan as she signed off with a flourish and lifted herself into a share of 19th with a two-under 69 for a one-under aggregate. A cheque for £73,000, her first as a professional, will make for pleasant reading on the bank statement.

Having finished in a thrilling share of 10th a year ago as an amateur, Duncan admitted that such a mighty result had impacted her performances since then. 

A sobering outing at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship earlier this season was a particularly sore one to stomach. “That was horrendous,” said the 22-year-old, who turned professional the other week ahead of the Women’s Scottish Open. “I nearly came dead last. I wasn’t confident and I felt out of place. That was definitely a low point.

“People may have been thinking, ‘she came top-10 in a major so she’s going to go out and win everything else’. It was never going to happen. I’ll keep this tournament in my mind going forward.”

Muirfield 2022 had provided plenty of food for thought.