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Yuka Saso’s Golf Adventures: Philippines Wins Japan Through US Open


PHOTO FILE: June 6, 2021;  San Francisco, California, USA;  Yuka Saso lifts the US Open trophy after winning a surprise playoff against Nasa Hataoka following the final round of the US Open women's golf tournament at The Olympic Club.

PHOTO FILE: June 6, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Yuka Saso lifts the US Open trophy after winning a surprise playoff against Nasa Hataoka following the final round of the US Open women’s golf tournament at The Olympic Club. Required credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports / File Photo

When a little-known teenager from the Philippines made global golf headlines by winning last year’s US Women’s Open, it changed her life – but left tough decisions on the side. before.

Yuka Saso next week will enjoy the new experience of protecting a major. But in Pine Needles, she’ll be playing under a different flag, the crimson Japanese circle.

Saso, who was born in the Philippines, to a Filipino mother and a Japanese father, was heartbroken because The “very difficult” decision to transfer allegiance to her father’s land.

Japan does not allow adults to hold dual citizenship, leaving Saso with a difficult choice before she turns 21 next month.

“I grew up in the Philippines and I played big events with the Philippine flag next to my name, so it was a big decision,” she told AFP.

“It was very difficult… I am a professional golfer. I need to make decisions that are good for my job.”

The scale raised by the Japanese passport makes travel easier in a post-pandemic world.

“I think everyone knows that the Japanese passport is stronger, it takes less work with things outside of the golf course,” Saso said via video call from the United States.

The Philippines will always hold a special place in Saso’s heart – she won two gold medals for the country at the 2018 Asian Games and played for them again at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

“I feel so honored to represent my mother’s country, those big events… all those memories,” Saso said.

“Hopefully people won’t think that I abandoned the Philippines, because I love the Philippines. I also love Japan.

“I’m still the same, just a flag.”

Advice from McIlroy

Twelve months ago, Saso arrived in San Francisco as a little-known golfer who has won several events on the Japan LPGA Tour.

By the time she left the Olympic Club, after just starting her seventh LPGA Tour, Saso had become the first Filipino golfer, male or female, to win a Major.

“Being able to win the US Open is amazing and getting an LPGA card is my dream,” she said.

“It changed my life and since then I’ve learned a lot on and off the golf course.”

The win catapulted her from world 40 into the top 10 and gave her a 5-year immunity to the elite LPGA Tour.

It also offers career-enhancing commercial endorsements. First in Saso’s signature queue is insurance giant AXA.

“I’m playing the Japan Tour and letting a big company like AXA go far, even before the US Open, it gave me the confidence to push myself more.”

Above all, the big win gives Saso the opportunity to meet his idol, Rory McIlroy, at the US Open men’s singles tournament next week.

Saso’s graceful swing is quite similar to the turn of the four-time Northern Ireland champion. It’s not random.

“It’s true that I tried to copy his swing,” she laughs, revealing that the pair have kept in touch after meeting again at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I really don’t want to bother him, I know how busy he is. But whenever I had questions, he always answered and offered some advice,” Saso said.

“One of my dreams is to be able to play with him one day.”

‘Very heartwarming’

Pine Needles, in the windswept sands of North Carolina, will present another challenge for Saso, who won her first major by the Pacific coast by slamming her knee into the hole. third playoff.

Saso, who reckoned the Pine Needles would be “a very hard course” after training there this month, was not even nine years old when she decided to get into golf – and swore she would win. US Open.

“My dad loves to watch golf. In 2010, we were watching the US Open when Paula Creamer won,” she recalls.

“And I said to my dad: ‘I want to win that trophy’ – at eight-and-a-half when I was just starting to play golf!” she laughed.

“My dad said, ‘Are you sure? I think you should just focus on other things because when you pursue something like becoming a professional athlete, you need to make a lot of sacrifices. ‘

“But I don’t understand all that, because I’m too young. So I just told him, ‘I want to be a professional golfer’. “

Eleven years later, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, Masakazu Saso was on the field to watch his daughter’s early prediction come true.

“It was heartwarming that my father was there, even though my mother was not there,” Saso said.

“I just feel so grateful for their help because without my family I wouldn’t be here.”

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