Bianca Pagdanganan of the Philippines watches her tee shot during a practice round prior to the 75th US Women's Open Championship at Champions Golf Club on December 9, 2020 in Houston. Carmen Mandato, Getty Images North America via AFP
Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan of the Philippines during a practice round at the 75th US Women's Open Championship in Houston. Courtesy of Carito Villaroman
Successful national teammates at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Bianca Pagdanganan and Yuka Saso reunite in the quest for individual glory -- and Philippine pride -- when they debut at the 75th US Women’s Open in Houston on Thursday (Friday, Manila time).
Pagdanganan tees off at 11:10 a.m. (Central Standard Time) while Saso, a 2-time Japan LPGA Tour winner, hits the Champions Golf Club at 11:32 a.m.
The long-hitting Pagdanganan, who averaged 284.7 yards off the tee in eight tournaments this season, will start at the back nine of Cypress Creek with fellow power-hitters Anne Van Dam of the Netherlands (281.8) and Mexican Maria Fassi (280.4).
Saso will be opening at Jack Rabbit in the same flight as Hawaiian-born amateur standout Allisen Corpuz and compatriot Heeyoung Park.
Together with Louise Kaye Go, Saso and Pagdanganan were the toast of the Philippine contingent at the 18th Asiad when they swept the individual and team gold at Pondok Indah course in the outskirts of the Indonesian capital, accounting for half of the country’s four mints there.
They have turned pro since then, emerging as the country’s bright spots in an otherwise bleak Philippine sports scene this year, with Saso and Pagdanganan flourishing in their rookie stints on the Japan and US LPGA tours, respectively.
Saso has had a stellar outing on the Japanese circuit, ruling two tournaments on the way to bagging runner-up honors in the Mercedes Order of Merit and emerging as the top money winner with 93,891,000 yen (approximately P43.4 million) in earnings.
Pagdangan, the reigning Southeast Asian Games champion, hasn’t done too badly either in her maiden appearance in the States, pocketing $198,596 (P9.8 million) from eight events, highlighted by her third-place finish in the LPGA Drive On Championship-Lake Oconee event in Greensboro, Georgia in October.
She placed in a tie for ninth in the KPMG Women’s Championship, one of the tour’s majors, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania more than two months ago that earned her a slot in the LPGA’s oldest major competition.
Saso will be among the 42 newcomers in the blue-ribbon event that has drawn an elite field of 154 entries from 26 countries firing off at the Champions Golf Club two courses – Cypress Creek and Jack Rabbit – with a total pot of $5.5 million (P264.3 million) up for grabs and a championship prize of $1 million (P48 million).
One of those who withdrew at the last minute was American pro Andrea Lee, who tested for COVID-19, GolfDigest.com reported on its website on Thursday (Wednesday in the US).
The US Open boasts of a star-studded field featuring nine past and present champions, led by South reigning titlist Lee Jeong-eun, who made her debut on the tour and ruled the event by two shots last year at the Country Club of Charleston in South Carolina.
The Asian contingent has done well in tournament, notably South Korean Inbee Park, the youngest winner of the US Women’s Open at 19 in 2008 before adding her second trophy five years later in 2013.
The names of compatriots Eun Hi Jee (2009), Sung Hyun Park (2017), So Yeon Ryu (2011) are also etched on the Harry S. Semple trophy, named after the late US Golf Association president, and Thai Ariya Jutanugarn (2018), as well.
The tournament was supposed to be held originally in July but with the postponement due to the pandemic, organizers were forced to hold the event to use two courses due to the early sunset times in Houston, home of the NBA’s Rockets and the US Space Center.
While both layouts are set at par 71, the 6,731-yard Cypress Creek and 6,558-yard Jack Rabbit are different, according to US tour veteran and Texas native Cheyenne Knight describing their playing conditions in an interview on GolfDigest.com.
Knight, who hails from Aledo, Texas, 448.2 kilometers northwest of Houston, called the greens of Cypress Creek as “enormous where you could have a 70, 80, 90-footer (putt).”
In contrast, Knight described the Jack Rabbit greens as “a lot tighter. There’s a lot of runoffs in the fairway where you could end up in the rough pretty easily. The greens are really small and a lot of undulation.”
“You can shoot a big number on Jack Rabbit if you’re not careful,” he added.
The top 60 golfers, including ties, after 36 holes will make it to the final two rounds, which will be held on Cypress Creek.