Golf in 2020: Breakout year for Saso, Pagdanganan on foreign soil

Published December 25, 2020, 10:25 AM

by Waylon Galvez

Photos from AFP

Despite the health crisis brought by the coronavirus pandemic, golf was among the sports that pushed through in the second half of 2020 after months of lockdown both on the local and international scene.

Filipino bets Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan, the stars of the gold medal winning Philippine women’s team in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, finally made their respective professional debuts when golf resumed play middle of the year.

Saso, who also won gold in the individual category in the Asian Games, made her debut at the Earth Mondahmin Cup in Chiba after earning her LPGA of Japan Tour card in 2019.

It didn’t take long for the 19-year-old Saso to make her presence felt despite being a tour rookie. She bagged her first title by ruling the NEC Karuizawa 72 championship last August 16, and two weeks later, captured the Notori Ladies Golf Tournament trophy.

Saso leads Japan Tour money rankings with approximately P43.6 million from tournament prize money.

In her first US Women’s Open bid in Houston, Texas, Saso showed that she can contend against the best in the world when she had a brief lead through nine holes in the first round. She went on to finish tied for 13th with six other players that earned her about P4.6 million.

Pagdanganan, who capped 2019 with a gold medal performance in the 30th Southeast Asian Games here, wasn’t as fortunate as Saso in the US Women’s Open as she missed the cut.

However, it was still a memorable first year as pro for the 23-year-old golfer.

She finished third overall in the LPGA Drive On Championship in Georgia, her highest finish in the LPGA Tour. She has collected about P9.8 million in earnings as a rookie in the tour.

On local shore, the government gave approval to golf – both as leisure and competition.

It was a successful return for the ICTSI-backed Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) as veteran Tony Lascuna ruled the Riviera Invitational Challenge, while Princess Superal won the LPGT event last November.

The sport, however, was marred by controversy when Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime Fresnedi ordered the cease and desists order to the operation of The Alabang Country Club because of violations of community quarantine protocols and guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Despite the call of no sports events under the general community quarantine by the government, the said high-class golf club hosted an intra-club tournament organized by Club 515 last Aug. 28 and 29.

The matter was investigated by the tripartite government agencies made of the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC) and the Department of Health (DOH), which crafted the health guideline for sports activities under the Joint Administrative Order (JAO).

JAO recommended the suspension to the National Task Force against COVID-19 – the implementing body of the IATF.