Ahead of Yuka Saso’s 20th birthday, she got a special treat.
She finally met her idol – Rory McIlroy.
The meeting occurred Tuesday, June 15 as Saso visited McIlroy during a practice round ahead of the 2021 US Men’s Open championship on June 17 to 20 at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California.
It was indeed a dream come true for Saso to meet McIlroy, the Northern Ireland native to whom she patterned her game when she was 13 years old – at that time she was starting to climb up the rankings as one of the top junior golfers in the Philippines.
The 19-year-old Saso made history recently when she became the first Filipino to capture the US Women’s Open title by winning a three-hole playoff against Nasa Hataoke of Japan at the Lake Course of The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California.
Saso matched the championship record of Park In-bee of South Korea as the youngest winner in the championship’s history at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, and in the way pocketed $1 million – approximately P48 million – for winning one of the five major titles in women’s professional golf.
“Well done again,” said the 32-year-old McIlroy, the former world No. 1 who has captured four major championships including the US Men’s Open title back in 2011 that is part of his 28 wins as a professional golfer.
“Play well for the rest of the season. I’ll be watching every tournament.”
Prior to the final round of the US Women’s Open, McIlroy, who won the US Men’s Open title in 2011, posted on ‘My Day’ via his Instagram account by encouraging her to “get the trophy”.
As the Filipino-Japanese Saso completed her comeback win, McIlroy congratulated her on Twitter, saying: “Everyone’s going to be watching Yuka Saso swing videos on YouTube now. Congratulations!”
In an online interview with local media, Saso – who will turn 20 on Sunday, June 20 – said that meeting McIlroy would be different.
“Mas magiging happy ako pag mag-kita kami in person. But I’m thankful he messaged me.
During the practice round where Saso walked with McIlroy, she was able to get advice from the latter. When asked on how he keeps his play at a high level since he turned pro in 2007, McIlroy gave Saso a few pointers.
“Do the same thing over and over again. I would say every practice session, everything you work on, write something (about it),” said McIlroy. “That’s a good thing to do.”
Aside from McIlroy, Saso also had a chance meeting with 45-time tour winner American Phil Mickelson, who recently won his sixth major during the PGA men’s championship at age 51.
“Hey… there’s an Open winner. Good to see you,” said Mickelson as he reached out for a fist bump with Saso. “Congratulations on your big victory. That’s fun to watch.”
With a golf swing patterned after McIlroy, Saso dominated at the amateur level highlighted by a double gold medal win during the Asian Games in Indonesia back in 2018.
As a pro, she won two titles as a rookie at the Japan LPGA Tour in 2020.
Saso will be aiming for a second major title in the KPMG championship on June 24 to 27 at the Highlands Course in Atlanta, Georgia. A month after that, she will represent the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics in Japan.