The latest evidence we are living in extraordinary times in respect of Muirfield and its approach to female golfers was provided on Saturday morning at the Women’s Open. Lindsey Garden, one of the first women to be afforded membership of the Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, played alongside Lydia Hall at the front of the field in round three.
It was not so long ago that the very concept of women among their number was considered offensive by the HCEG. Not only is the playing of this major here a landmark moment, Garden being placed front and center shows how much things have apparently changed in this corner of East Lothian. With an odd number of players making the cut, Garden was called upon to keep Hall company. She will feature again in round four unless someone withdraws.
“It’s fantastic,” said Garden, a former Scottish internationalist who holds a handicap of 1.6, of her Muirfield membership. “I’ve been a member a year and it’s just been a great year since I’ve been a member knowing we’re hosting the Women’s Open. There has been lots of preparation for that. There’s been some really fun stuff around that, media days, some interviews with various media people talking about what it’s like to be a woman member at Muirfield. It’s the same as it is for a man. We’re equal.”
Yet it took until 2017 and a second vote for that to become the case. Even at that point, only 80% of members who took part in the poll agreed with a criteria change.
Garden admitted to feeling “very nervous” before her opening tee shot but the scenario was not delivered at the last minute. “I had known for a few weeks,” she said. “There was some chat that if there was an odd number, I would be the marker. So it wasn’t totally unexpected. I played OK. I didn’t embarrass myself off the 1st tee. I hit the ball nicely but putting could have been better.
“The course is fantastic, isn’t it? The course just looks great and so I think all the girls are loving playing our course. That’s what we want, just that opportunity to play here just as the men have had for years and years.”
That Ashleigh Buhai reached 12 under par after nine holes of her third round put a number of players out of the tournament. The South African is looking to make up for a missed opportunity, having conceded a three-shot lead after two rounds of the Women’s Open at Woburn in 2019. Buhai played her front nine in five under. She reached minus 13 with a further birdie at the 10th. At that juncture, she was four clear.
Charley Hull’s 69, which included an eagle at the 17th, moved her to three under with Lydia Ko one shot further back after a 70. Hull refused to count herself out on day four. “Anything can happen,” she said.
“I’ll never forget the first professional event I won. I was 17. I shot nine under in the final round to get into the playoff and I won, so you never know.
“I’m happy. I’ve never really performed that well on links courses. So I think I can have a low one tomorrow. You never know what happens on a links golf course.
“I definitely think I’ve had the worse side of the draw. Late on the first day and an early morning yesterday. The wind dropped off in the afternoon yesterday. I am just embracing it and having fun.”