Ashleigh Simon during the first round of the SA Women's Open
Only two weeks after she could make a full swing for the first time since hip surgery, Ashleigh Simon is already challenging for a victory in the South African Women’s Open.
Simon opened with a two-under-par 70 in her first full 18 holes in almost four months and which was played in the rain at Southbroom Golf Club on Friday. It puts her in a group of players only one stroke off the three-under-par 69 lead of Norway’s Marianne Skarpnord.The weather made for a tough start to this WPGA and Ladies European Tour co-sanctioned tournament. South Africa’s Stacy Bregman started well with two straight birdies and was three under with three to play before making bogey on the seventh.
The 17-year-old English sensation Charley Hull, who was on a drip for food poisoning earlier in the week, is once again in contention after her second place finish in a tournament in Morocco last month. She also signed for a two-under 70. Germany’s Nina Holleder came with a late charge, including a two on the par-four sixth hole, on her way to a 70. And Finland’s Minea Blomqvist, Sweden’s Camilla Lennarth and American Katie Burnett also finished the day on two under.
But Simon’s 70 was one of the more impressive on the day. The South African was three under through seven holes before the one bad swing she made all day cost her with a double bogey on the par-three 17th with a tee shot into the water. But she responded with another birdie thereafter in what counts as a remarkable achievement considering she wasn’t even sure she would be ready for this tournament.
“I’m really happy. I only started hitting balls two weeks ago, and my coach and I have kept it pretty simple in terms of my recovery because I’m not 100% strong yet on my left side,” said Simon, who won this tournament in 2004 and 2007.
While her doctors doubted her ability to play this week, her coach, Doug Wood, certainly felt she was ready. “She has got such a strong mind. I never doubted she could do it,” he said.
Simon was told last August that she would have to undergo hip surgery. “I had this constant ache in my hip and down my leg. I had just started to play really well in Europe when I had to quit,” she said.
But the break was a blessing, giving Simon a much-needed break from the game. From her days as the child prodigy of South African women’s golf, the 23-year-old has had little time for herself.
“In the first six weeks I didn’t really miss the game at all. I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years old and needed a break. A break just does you good and reassures that this is what you want to do and gets that hunger back. Lately I’ve been at the point where I never wanted to hit balls so much in my life as now.”
Not being able to make a full swing has benefitted Simon in that she’s developed an even better short game. “I’ve worked really hard on my short game, and that paid off today. If I was ever in trouble my short game saved me.”
Bregman was equally solid on a difficult day, and is benefitting from the work she is doing with Dr Sherylle Calder, the vision specialist who transformed Ernie Els’s putting.
“It was very tough out there. I’ve never played 18 holes in constant rain in South Africa before. But it was still possible to score. I’ve been working with Dr Calder and she’s really helped out.”