What Yuka Saso’s victory means to Philippine sports

Published June 25, 2021, 12:15 AM

by Ramon Bonilla


Ramon Bonilla

Yuka Saso became an instant rockstar after surprising a field of veteran golfers and former tour winners at the US Women’s Open early this month.

At a young age of 19, the San Ildefonso, Bulacan player put the country on the sporting map through her wits, unmatched skill and pure dedication to a game that is relatively concealed from the shadows of basketball and boxing.

Saso’s win created a noise that reverberated across the globe, a victory that is worthy of  the attention of golf star Rory McIlroy — to whom she patterned her swing — and also a congratulatory message from President Duterte who is a golf enthusiast on his rest days back in Davao City.

“May you remain determined as you aim higher, humbled even with all fulfillments… success and triumphant as you raise our flag in future competitions,” the President said.

New mission

The stakes get high as you come victorious from any major international competitions.

Aside from pocketing a cool $1 million (P48 million) and securing five-year membership on the LPGA Tour — a privilege that entails more cash, exposure to fish big-time sponsors, and chance to add more accolades to her young career, Saso also jumped to eight spot in the world rankings.

What does this mean?

In a country that starves for Olympic glory, golf could likely become the source of national pride when the Games begin.

Saso is almost assured of a spot in Tokyo due to her ranking. She could be joined in the women’s division by Bianca Pagdanganan should she stay consistent on her level of play before the list of qualified players comes out.

Juvic Pagunsan, veteran in the Asian and Japan Tour, already booked an Olympic berth after the international federation released the names of 60 participants in the men’s field.

“All three of our athletes have real chances of podium finishes, if not even gold,” Bones Floro, secretary general of the National Golf Association of the Philippines, told the recent online session of the Philippine Sportswriters Association Forum.

The official has all the confidence to tell the world that a Filipino could soon be an Olympic champion from a sport that is dominated by Americans and Koreans.

And he might be telling facts.

During the US Women’s Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, California, Saso bested some of the top golfers in the world, including the No.1 women’s player Jin Young Ko of South Korea.

“They have proven it, they have the heart, determination, and their work ethic is amazing. Very disciplined,” Floro said.

Big contingent to Tokyo

Saso and company could join the likes of world champion gymnast Caloy Yulo, pole vaulter EJ Obiena, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz and Elreen Ando, boxers Eumir Marcial, Irish Magno, Nesthy Petecio and Carlo Paalam, skateboarder Margielyn Didal, rower Criz Nievarez and taekwondo jin Kurt Barbosa to the Tokyo Games.

Just recently, sprinter Kristina Knott and judoka Kiyomi Watanabe were rewarded slots to the Games.

More athletes could punch their way to the Olympics, which is set to happen next month — barring any sudden postponement that might be caused by the emergence of COVID-19.

This contingent has its fair chance of winning the gold medal, an achievement not seen on the annals of Philippine sports history.

As Saso plunges into action at the KPMG Championship in Atlanta, Georgia, she is sure to be also itching to bring home the elusive gold.

(The author is the head of Sports section of Manila Bulletin)