Teen golfing sensation Yuka Saso last week gave the Philippines – long accustomed to coping with bad news due to its underperforming economy which has relegated it to “laggard of Asia” status and the sputtering pandemic response that has frustratingly delayed its return to normalcy – a reason to smile with her historic win in the 76th U.S. Women’s Open in San Francisco, California.
Saso’s improbable victory came in breath-sapping fashion after she pipped Japan’s Nasa Hataoka during an aggregate play-off at the Olympic Club.
For her efforts, Saso banked a whopping $1 million (before taxes) and earned her a well-deserved niche in the terribly short list of Philippine golfing greats.
She becomes the first Filipino to win in any of the LPGA’s five major championships, and the second teenager to win the oldest major tournament in women’s golf together with Korea’s famed Inbee Park, the 2008 champion, at an identical 19 years, 11 months and 17 days.
Saso, who was born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan to Japanese-Filipino parents, entered the final round just behind Lexi Thompson of the US in the last flight.
But a series of miscues on the part of the American star, who was leading by 5 shots on the front nine, opened the door for Saso.
Thompson unfortunately suffered a monumental collapse down the stretch allowing chasers Saso and Hataoka to overtake her.
The two Asian golfers, who were all-square after 72 holes of regulation play, scored identical pars in the first two holes of the play-off; but Saso clinched the win with a 10-foot birdie in the third, while Hataoka settled for a par.
All throughout the four-day tourney, Saso, who has a Japanese father, was embraced by the Filipino community from nearby Daly City who erupted in rapturous applause when she sank the title-clinching putt.
It is hoped that Saso’s history-making victory would inspire thousands of Filipina lasses involved in the game to follow in her footsteps, much in the same way Se Ri Pak’s groundbreaking exploits in the LPGA Tour two decades ago opened the floodgates for countless female par busters back in South Korea.