After a sneeze nearly ended her career, Jodi Ewart Shadoff the latest in trio of thirtysomethings to win for first time on LPGA in 2022

A sneeze nearly ended Jodi Ewart Shadoff’s career. It sounds rather silly now, but in January 2021, an under-the-weather Ewart Shadoff sneezed, and an hour later, she couldn’t walk. The American Lung Association reports that sneezes can travel up to 100 mph, and the force behind Ewart Shadoff’s sneeze resulted in a herniated disc.

The Englishwoman missed two months of tournaments that season, and as a veteran of back ailments, didn’t know if she could battle through another one.

“The game that I loved for 25 plus years, I was starting to resent because I was in so much pain,” said Ewart Shadoff. “I just didn’t know if I could keep going.”

It was her team, Ewart Shadoff said, that pushed her through one of the most trying seasons of her career and last Sunday, it all paid off. Ewart Shadoff, 34, won in her 246th start on the LPGA, one of three players over the age of 30 to break through for their first LPGA title this season, joining South Africans Paula Reto (32) and Ashleigh Buhai (33).

“I keep telling people I wake up in the morning and think ‘Oh, that was a weird dream,’” said Ewart Shadoff of her wire-to-wire victory at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

“Then ‘Oh wow, it’s real. That actually happened.’ ”

In all, six players over the age of 30 have won this season, putting the average age of winners on at 26.52. Eun-Hee Ji (36), Lizette Salas (32) and Marina Alex (31) round out the veteran group. On a tour full of prodigies, these women give inspiration to those taking the long route.

“I’ll play this game until I’m 50, I love it so much,” said Paula Reto, who won for the first time in her 157th start last August at the CP Women’s Open. The Purdue grad contended last week at the Mediheal as well, until two late bogeys dropped her into a share of third.

Reto said she overwhelmed herself in those early years on tour, trying to do too much at once. If she could go back, she’d tell herself to focus on the small things and get those right.

“I was thinking too much in my 20s,” she said. “Once I reached my 30s, I was like stop thinking and just play golf.”

Disappointed with her putting so far this season, which is normally a strength, Reto hired Abimbola Olakanye in Canada to help give her more confirmation on the greens. Becoming a better green reader, she said, is one of her offseason goals.

“I feel like I’m going to peak more,” Reto said.

Buhai didn’t finish with her press obligations at Muirfield until 10:30 p.m. in Scotland after her playoff victory at the AIG Women’s British Open. The R&A kept the players lounge open late for Buhai and her pals to celebrate.

“We ended up not catching our flight on the Monday back to the States,” she said with a laugh.

Buhai was a star in her home country before she could drive, winning the 2004 South African Open at age 14, a title she has claimed three times, and leading her country to the World Amateur Team Championship title on home soil in 2006, before turning professional the following year.

But despite that early success, it took 221 starts over the span of a dozen years for Buhai to win on the LPGA. That she triumphed at historic Muirfield, following in the footsteps of South Africa’s Gary Player and Ernie Els, made it all the more special.

“Obviously there was so much, I wouldn’t say pressure, but expectation from a young Ashleigh to come out the blocks and carry on winning,” she said, “ but it’s hard out here and it’s gotten harder every year.”

Player, who won at Muirfield in 1959, sent along four key notes to Buhai during the championship: You’re going to hit bad shots, just let them be; stay patient; think win; and keep your head still on your putts.

“It’s easy to just back down when you’re in that moment,” said Buhai, who clinched victory with a sensational bunker shot on the fourth playoff hole.

The major title brings with it a five-year exemption, and Buhai said it couldn’t have come at a better time in her life. She and husband David, who caddies on tour for Jeong-eun Lee6, want to start a family at some point, and the assurance that a major title brings opens up their options.

“Financially, it has taken so much pressure off of me,” said Buhai.

Playing the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach next year has been high on her list as well as another British Open at St. Andrews (2024) and another Olympics (2024).

The five-year exemption and $1,095,000 paycheck from the Open means that Buhai could stop for and unpaid maternity leave and not worry so much about finances and her status on tour upon return. And if she decided after she did come back that she didn’t want to carry on competing, she’d leave the game a major champion.

“Now, I have the flexibility,” she said, which is priceless.

Ashleigh Buhai of South Africa celebrates after her putt shot on the 18th hole in the third Play Off for winning the AIG Women’s Open with his husband during Day Four of the AIG Women’s Open at Muirfield on August 07, 2022 in Gullane, Scotland. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

For the past several years, Ewart Shadoff has watched friends compete in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions near her home in Orlando and wished she could be there. Not long after she signed her scorecard last Sunday, Ewart Shadoff realized that she’d have a spot in the field next January at Lake Nona.

Her next goal: win a major.

“Now that I know that I can win under that kind of pressure, and that kind of nerves,” she said, “I feel much more comfortable moving forward.”

Ewart got her American driver’s license shortly before graduating from New Mexico in 2010 and struck out for Iowa for her first Epson Tour tournament the same day she got a car.

With a dead GPS and printed-out directions that took her the most direct route rather than the highways, Ewart Shadoff got her first speeding ticket in Kansas.

If she could turn back the clock, would she tell that 22-year-old with big dreams?

“I would say, stay very patient,” she said. “Don’t give up hope and just fight through all the adversity. You’ll get there eventually, and you’ll become stronger because of it.”