MANILA, Philippines -- Reigning U.S. Women's Open champion Yuka Saso is thankful that she continues to enjoy the support of Filipinos, even after she chose her Japanese citizenship last year.
Saso, born to a Filipino mother and a Japanese father, represented the Philippines as an amateur, winning two gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games. She also carried the flag in her first year as a professional, including in 2021 U.S. Women's Open where she became the first golfer from the Philippines to win a major.
But in November 2021, Saso revealed that she is choosing her Japanese citizenship, in accordance with a Japanese law that requires those with dual citizenship to choose one ahead of their 22nd birthday.
The change took effect in this season of the LPGA, with the 20-year-old Saso now competing under the Japanese flag.
"The thing is, choosing the Japan citizenship is (because of) the passport, which I use to travel," Saso explained in a press conference on Monday night at the Solaire Resort and Casino.
"Time management is very important for us athletes," she added. "That (Japanese passport) makes time management easier, because we travel a lot."
"It's just that for my career, I had to do that."
The Japanese passport is considered among the most powerful in the world, with holders allowed to travel visa-free to 192 destinations. The Philippine passport provides visa-free travel to 66 destinations, per the Henley Passport Index.
Saso, who is back home in the Philippines for the first time in two years, said she is "super proud" of her dual citizenship and is not in any way renouncing her Filipino citizenship.
"I'll be forever Filipino and Japanese," said Saso, who revealed that she still has her Philippine passport.
"I'm super thankful for the Filipino fans and Japanese fans who have supported me. That's very important to me," she also said. "People understand my situation."
"Even though I represent Japan now… I am always super proud of my dual citizenship, being half-Japanese, half-Filipino," she added.
Saso will no longer be eligible to represent the Philippines in the Tokyo Olympics or in the LPGA Tour, but she vowed that the country will always be in her heart when she competes.
"Hopefully they don't forget that even though I represent a different country now, it doesn't mean I'm not a Filipino anymore," said Saso. "And I still have a Philippine passport. So, hopefully they can still support us going forward, and I'll do my best to make everyone proud."
After her brief stay in the Philippines, Saso will compete in the HSBC Women's Championship in Singapore on March 2-6, and at the Honda LPGA Thailand on March 10-13.