Golf: Yuka Saso explains decision to choose Japanese citizenship

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2022 12:41 PM | Updated as of Jan 24 2022 02:23 PM

Yuka Saso hoists the US Open trophy after winning in a sudden death playoff over Nasa Hataoka following the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament at The Olympic Club. File Photo. Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.
Yuka Saso hoists the US Open trophy after winning in a sudden death playoff over Nasa Hataoka following the final round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament at The Olympic Club. File Photo. Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.

Yuka Saso wrapped up her first tournament while playing under the Japanese flag on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, when she placed sixth in the 2022 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at the Lake Nona Golf & Country Club.

Saso shot a 73 on Sunday for a 9-under total of 279, seven behind eventual winner Danielle Kang (16-under 272). She brought home a total of $65,497.00 in prize money.

"I would say it was really good. There was some room for improvement, and, yeah, overall it was very good, so I won't complain," the 20-year-old Saso said after the event.

For Saso, it marked the first time that she represented Japan in an official event after confirming last year that she is choosing her Japanese citizenship.

Saso was born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan to a Filipino mother and a Japanese father. Under Japanese law, those with dual citizenships must choose one by their 22nd birthday.

The golfer announced in November that she is choosing her Japanese citizenship, a change that took effect ahead of the 2022 LPGA season. The tour's official website reflected the switch ahead of the Tournament of Champions.

Asked to explain her decision, Saso said: "Well, obviously for me it doesn't really matter. I'm very proud of my dual citizenship. Whatever I represent, I'm Filipino."

Before choosing her Japanese citizenship, Saso had represented the Philippines both as an amateur and as a professional. She won team and individual gold for the Philippines in the 2018 Asian Games, as well as the 2021 U.S. Women's Open. 

"So, it's just for (the) passport more, because if I have (a) Japanese passport then I can travel mostly everywhere with no visa," Saso explained. "That will be very helpful for my game, for my career."

"That was pretty much it."

According to the Henley Passport Index, holders of Japanese passports can travel without a visa to 192 destinations. In contrast, a Philippine passport provides visa-free travel to just 66 destinations.

Saso's decision to choose her Japanese citizenship was met with understanding by Philippine sports officials. Rep. Abraham "Bambol" Tolentino, the president of the Philippine Olympic Committee, said it was a "personal business decision" by Saso and her camp.

"Carrying a Japanese passport (in) every international tournament helps a lot," Tolentino admitted. "Imagine, no visa needed. (There are) health care and social benefits too, plus the big sponsorships from Japan."

National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP) secretary-general Bones Floro, meanwhile, expressed his gratitude to Saso for having raised the profile of Philippine golf.

Saso was the first Filipino, man or woman, to win a golf major.

"Yuka is both Filipino and Japanese. We are sad to see her go, but she will always be a huge part of Philippine golf. We thank her for her service to our country," Floro said last year. "We will always support her anytime she needs it from us."

Saso is expected to compete in the Gainbridge LPGA event this week, set for January 27-30 in Boca Raton, Florida.