Filipino Golfer Yuka Saso Makes History By Winning The 2021 US Open
At 19 years old Yuka Saso has made history. The professional golfer and Gen.T honouree won the women’s US Open, becoming the first Filipino player to win a major golf tournament.
While Saso had a rough start in the tournament, she ended by besting Japan’s Nasa Hataoka in the third hole of a sudden death playoff, cementing herself as the winner of the 76th US Women’s Open golf championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.
During a post-match press conference over Zoom, Saso told Tatler Asia that nerves had started to kick in after her wobbly start. "I just wanted to stay focused and stay in the zone," she said, adding that the constant support from her fans and team kept her going. "There were so many people holding up Philippines flags. It made me really happy,” she told Reuters.
Despite her string of recent successes, Saso admits that she did not expect to win such a major tournament so soon. "I always get nervous at tournaments. [But] I just stayed focused on my routine, on myself, and I trusted the process. Hard work paid off, I guess," she said to Tatler Asia.
Saso says she's now focusing her attention on the next tournament. "This is a very special win. But this is just the start."
Here's nine things you need to know about the Gen.T honouree and her historic achievement.
1/9 She's the first Filipino to win the US Open
Yuka Saso is the first Filipino person to ever win the tournament, which is one of four major tournaments in the golfing calendar.
"We are so very proud of Yuka's fantastic win. We have recognised her talent since she was 12 years old," says Enrique K Razon Jr, chairman, president and executive director of ICTSI, one of Saso's major sponsors. "Deep down, we always knew she would be a champion. It is just the tonic the country needs in this crisis."
2/9 She's now eligible for full LPGA Tour membership
According to The Golf Channel, this victory “solidified a five-year LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) exemption, including full status for the rest of the season, a recent rule change made by the LPGA”. This means she automatically qualifies to play in all LPGA competitions.
Saso was initially non-committal about whether she’d commit to playing full time with the LPGA Tour. “I'm going to talk to my dad, my family about it, and we are going to decide after,” Saso said to Golf Digest. Later, Saso made a statement to confirm she would accept the membership.
3/9 Saso is the competition's joint youngest winner
Yuka Saso and South Korea's Park Inbee are the youngest champions at the women's game's oldest major. Saso turned 19 years, 11 months and 17 days old on the day she won the tournament, which is the same age Park was when she won the title.
4/9 She is a double gold medallist
At the 2018 Asian Games, Saso brought home two gold medals for the Philippines. She won the individual and women's team events.
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5/9 She used to live in Japan
Saso moved to Japan when she was around five years old. "I couldn't speak Japanese and I didn't have any friends so my dad brought me to the driving range, to the golf course. That's the only thing that I did," she told The Olympics.
6/9 She looks up to golfer Rory Mcllroy
"When I was nine I said to my dad, 'I want to be a professional golfer like Rory [McIlroy].'" She told The Olympics that she watches Rory almost every day on YouTube, saying: “I watch him [for] maybe an hour or so, and then I watch a movie and sleep."
The golfer even received support from Mcllroy on social media prior to the games. "Rory said, 'Get that trophy,' and I did. So thank you, Rory," she said to Reuters.
Saso said she began watching him when she was 13 years old, when he won the US Open. "I was not expecting him to notice me, so I am really happy! But I would be happier if I see him in person," she told Tatler Asia.
7/9 She went pro in November 2019
According to the Japan Times, she rose in the ranks after “earning her Japan LPGA card and started working out of Masashi 'Jumbo' Ozaki’s practice facility. She has won two titles on the Japanese tour and sits fourth on the money list this season."
I can’t believe my name is going to be here
— Yuka Saso
8/9 Family is very important to her
"I am very thankful for my family. They have sacrificed a lot for me. This is not the end of my journey. Now we have to move on and focus on what is next," she told Tatler Asia.
"I am happy I won. But most importantly I am so thankful for my family. They have been there since the start. That made me emotional. I am really thankful, but I will still have to keep on working hard, so I hope that everyone can still support me throughout my career."
9/9 It's her third professional win
Golf Digest reports that "Saso won twice in back-to-back events on the Japan LPGA Tour in 2020, winning the NEC Karuizawa 72 Golf Tournament and the Nitori Ladies Golf Tournament in August last year."
See more honourees in the Sports category of the Gen.T List 2020.