Yesterday, the Asian Games. Today, the US Women’s Open. Tomorrow, the Olympics.
Drawing inspiration from her idol, former world No. 1 golfer Rory McIlroy, the Philippines’ Yuka Saso captured the 2021 US Women’s Open Championship in a dramatic playoff at The Olympic Club Sunday (Monday in Manila) in San Francisco, California.
“Rory (McIlroy) mentioned me on Instagram, and said, “Get that trophy” – and I did. So, thank you Rory,” said Saso during the trophy presentation.
The message from McIlroy posted hours before the tee off might be short, but it was meaningful enough as Saso battled from two double bogeys on the second and third holes en route to a gripping playoff and historic triumph.
Saso sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole to beat Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and become the first Filipino to win the prestigious title.
She also tied Korean Inbee Park as the youngest champion in the tournament at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days.
The inspiring final round performance from Saso was all about heart and determination as she came back from a six-stroke deficit against 54-hole leader Lexi Thompson of the US to force a playoff with Hataoka.
Saso and Hataoka finished the regulation at four-under-par 280 with Saso shooting 2-over 73 in the final round and Hataoka 3-under 68.
Thompson held a six-stroke lead at one point but collapsed and finished with a 75 for 281.
A 14-time champion, Thompson missed the playoff after a bogey on the 18th – one of the four she committed in the final round which also included a double bogey on the 11th against a pair of birdies.
Still holding her putter when poured with champagne by a member of her contingent, Saso celebrated the victory with fist bumps to several Filipinos in attendance on her way to the trophy presentation ceremony.
Saso acknowledged not just that small group that witnessed history, but an entire country which she has given pride and honor.
“I don’t know what’s happening in the Philippines right now, but I’m just thankful that there’s so many people in the Philippines cheering for me,” said Saso, who now owns three titles as a professional, the first two were in the Japan LPGA Tour where she is a regular.
“I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone.”
Backed by ICTSI mogul Enrique Razon, Saso earned a four-day paycheck of $1 million (around P48 million) for winning the title.
The 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist also earned an LPGA Tour membership for the next five years.
Putting icing on the cake, McIlroy posted another message for Saso on his Twitter account, congratulating the teenager.
“Everyone’s going to be watching Yuka Saso swing videos on YouTube now. Congratulations!”
Saso endeared herself to the audience by speaking in Filipino and Japanese during her post-match interview.
Asked by ABS-CBN correspondent TJ Manotoc, Saso shared her thoughts about overcoming an early obstacle where she double-bogeyed the second and third holes.
“Medyo nainis po ako nun, pero kinausap po ako ng caddie ko and sabi nya marami pang butas and just keep trusting myself. Yun po yung nakatulong sakin,” she said.
Although the official list of qualifiers to the Tokyo Olympics will be released only after June 28 based on their world rankings, Saso said she is excited to represent the country in another big stage.
Saso is currently at No. 22 in the world Olympic rankings and could improve following this victory.
The Olympics will have 60 players in the women’s division.
“Marami pa pong tournaments. Focus lang po muna ako sa mga upcoming tournaments. But super excited po ako for the Olympics,” Saso said. (With a report from Kristel Satumbaga)