Saso’s victory demonstrates Japan’s high level of golf on world stage

Japanese players shone brightly on the highest stage of women’s golf. We would like to celebrate their accomplishment of showing the world the high level of Japanese golf.

Yuka Saso earned her first victory in the U.S. Women’s Open, a major women’s golf tournament, after winning a playoff between her and Nasa Hataoka, a Japanese player. At the age of 19 years and 11 months, Saso is tied as the youngest player to win the tournament.

She became the third female golfer with a connection to Japan to win a major, following Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 U.S. Women’s PGA Championship and Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women’s British Open.

Saso, whose father is Japanese and mother is from the Philippines, has dual nationality status. She started playing golf at the age of 8 and has been working with her father with the aim of reaching the top of the golf world.

To strengthen her lower body, she has been training with weights on both legs. She is known as the “Tiger Woods” of the women’s tour because of her unbelievable driving distance that is probably the result of her accumulated training.

She is fluent in Tagalog and Japanese, and has taken English lessons after golf practice. Saso expressed her many feelings in English at the award ceremony, saying, “My dream was to be world No. 1, but I wasn’t thinking I would hold this trophy this week.”

She and Hataoka, who played in the playoff, have been competing against each other since their days on the junior tour. Hataoka is one of the most talented players of the younger generation. She finished second in the 2018 U.S. Women’s PGA Championship.

Although she was unable to achieve her long-cherished dream of winning a major championship this time, her impressive performance catapulted her into a tie for the lead on the final day, which must be applauded.

In April this year, Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters Tournament for the first time, and the Japanese golf world has been excited by a string of great achievements.

Especially, women golfers have made remarkable progress, with the “golden generation” of players born in fiscal 1998 such as Hataoka and Shibuno and the “platinum generation” of players born in fiscal 2000 also on the rise.

Saso is even younger than the “platinum generation.” It can be said that this year’s tournament showed the world the high level and broad base of Japanese golfers. Expectations are growing that a time will come when it will not be unusual for Japanese players to win major tournaments.

Saso intends to select Japanese nationality in the future, but she said she is aiming to represent the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics. It is hoped that she will become a bridge between Japan and the Philippines in the future.

Hataoka is almost certain to make Japan’s Olympic team. “Yuka’s aggressive play was great,” Hataoka said, while Saso said, “I could learn a lot from her.” It will be great if the two young golfers, who praised each other’s efforts, compete against each other for medals at the Games.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 8, 2021.