Yuka Saso ignites national pride
At a time when the corruption index of the government has worsened to 115th place out of 180 countries; at a time when our leaders are giving away to China our territorial rights in the West Philippine sea; at a time when our 2021 Miss Universe candidate could not even be in the top 20; and at a time when we are feeling more isolated than ever because of the way the administration is poorly responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, here comes Yuka Saso to fire up our hopes and our sense of national pride following her recent win at the 76th US Women’s Open golf championship.
As a people, we are extremely regionalistic. We tend to be proud, not for being Filipinos but for being part of a regional ethnic group, like “We are Ilocanos first and Filipinos second.” But the awesome win of Saso sparks collective joy and perhaps even a sense of unity among Filipinos, if only for a short period.
Saso’s incredible win in the US Open should teach us to never give up. Despite our hardships, uncertainties, and frustrations, we are going to win our battles if we persevere. When Saso started the final round, she was only a stroke behind Lexi Thompson. Bur she made two double bogeys on the front nine, and she felt she had no more chance of winning. Her caddie cheered her up and advised her to just play her best. As she finished the 18th hole, she found herself in the lead, tied with Nasa Hataoka of Japan at four under par. In the playoff, both made pars on the first and second holes. But Saso rolled a 10-foot birdie on the third hole to win the championship.
While Saso may not be that popular among American fans, she’s actually No. 9 in the World Rolex Rankings and a two-time winner in the rich Japan LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association). Last year at the US Women’s Open in Houston, she tied for 13th place, her best finish in a major. And recently at an LPGA event in Hawaii, she held the 36-hole lead, eventually taking a share of sixth place.
In the second round of this year’s US Open, Saso hit only six fairways, but she slashed her way out of the roughs, which only a few other golfers could match. She’s one of the top five most powerful hitters today and ranks second in the field in putting. She made only 26 putts in the first round and 27 in the second.
Saso was born and brought up in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, with a Filipino mother and a Japanese father. I’ve been a fan of Saso since 2018 when she teamed up with Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Go to win the country’s first-ever double gold medals, registering a historic win in the women’s team event as well as the individual event in the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. In the individual event, her Chinese opponent was two strokes ahead as they approached the final hole. The only way Saso would have a winning chance was to make an eagle on the 18th hole. And that’s exactly what she did, thus helping the country perform its best-ever Asian Games record.
But the most amazing games of Saso happened in mid-2020 when she debuted in the Japan LPGA, earning more than 59 million yen (P26 million) after winning two straight tournaments and placing fifth in an earlier event. As the Inquirer reported of her sensational performance: “[She] fired a one-under-par 71 in a rain-delayed final round in a showdown against Sakura Koiwai to rule the Nitori Ladies golf tournament by two strokes at Otaru Country Club in Hokkaido, Japan… [She] finished the tournament at 13-under 275 and bagged the top prize of 36 million yen (about P16.5 million) after winning her second event on the prestigious Japan LPGA.”
I watched Saso on YouTube compete in the 2019 Augusta National Women’s Amateur Championship. She finished tied third behind J. Kupcho of the US and Maria Fassi of Mexico. I predicted then that she would be a world champion by the age of 23. As you can see, I was wrong by four years.
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Charlie A. Agatep is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep, an integrated and independent marketing communications agency.
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