Filipino Olympian profile: All eyes on Saso, Philippines’ best bet for gold

Camille B. Naredo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 20 2021 06:00 PM | Updated as of Jul 22 2021 07:17 AM

Filipino Olympian profile: All eyes on Saso, Philippines’ best bet for gold 1
Yuka Saso plays her shot from the second tee during the first round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Adam Hagy, USA TODAY Sports/Reuters.

MANILA, Philippines—Regardless of what happens in the Tokyo Olympics, Yuka Saso's place in Philippine sports history is already secure.

Still only 20 years old, Saso has already won two gold medals in the Asian Games, and last June, became the first Filipino golfer -- male or female -- to win a major championship. Her triumph at the US Women's Open in California was greatly celebrated in the Philippines; it also essentially clinched her spot in the Tokyo Olympics. 

Saso is now one of 3 Filipinos to qualify for the Summer Games, along with veteran Juvic Pagunsan and Bianca Pagdanganan, her teammate in the Asian Games. At the end of the qualification period, Saso ranked eighth in the Olympic Golf Rankings. 

"Super excited po ako for (the) Olympics," Saso said after her triumph at the US Women's Open.

In Tokyo, Saso is expected to be among the contenders for gold, thanks in large part to her historic triumph in the US Women's Open. 

The president of the country's golf federation has made no secret of his expectation for the Filipino golfers -- not just Saso, but Pagunsan and Pagdanganan as well.

"I've been very vocal about this. All three of our athletes have real, realistic chances of podium finishes, if not even gold," National Golf Association of the Philippines secretary-general Bones Floro has said.

This kind of pressure is something that Saso is already used to, and it's in these kinds of situations that she's found great success.

In the 2018 Asian Games, Saso trailed by four strokes against China's Liu Wenbo entering the fourth and final round. But she shot a 66 in the last round for a 13-under total of 275, while Liu shot 73 and finished three strokes behind. Pagdanganan also shot a 66 in the last round to snatch the bronze, helping the Philippines win the team gold.

At the US Women's Open last month, Saso surrendered the lead heading into the final round, and all appeared lost when she hit two double bogeys in her first three holes. 

"My caddie talked to me and I said that I had to get back on track, I need to trust myself. There's many holes to go, there's many more chances," Saso said at the time.

That was exactly what she did, and Saso again displayed her prowess in the clutch in beating Japan's Nasa Hataoka in the third hole of the sudden death playoff.

"I don't know if I'm mentally tough. I'm not very tough. I'm a little bit soft," Saso would say after her victory. "But I'm a very happy kind of person. When I'm in the Philippines I talk to everyone, I talk to the caddies, I love talking to them."

"You know, I just needed to be quiet. Just so I keep myself calm. That's, I think, and breathing," she added.

Having already displayed tremendous poise under pressure in previous competitions, it's no wonder that Saso is considered as one of the country's brightest medal hopes in the upcoming Olympic Games. 

Yet there's also no doubt that she will keep the same mentality that has already brought her to great heights so early in her career.

"I don't want myself to be overconfident. I wanna take it slow as well. Take it day by day, and just do what I was doing a week ago, three days ago," Saso had said after her triumph in the US Women's Open. 

"I don't wanna rush anything. I just wanna take it week by week, play golf, and enjoy all the tournaments that I can join. Get the most experience."

Saso, along with Pagdanganan will compete in the women's golf competition at the Kasumigaseki Country Club on August 4-7.

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