By Jeanne Michael Penaranda
SAN FRANCISCO/MANILA – Filipinos in the Philippines and elsewhere, specially in the San Francisco Bay Area, cheered as one as Filipina-Japanese Yuka Saso won in historic fashion the 76th U.S. Women’s Open golf championship at the Olympic Club in San Francisco on June 6.
Saso, 19, who was born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, bounced back from two early double bogeys and held off Japan’s Nasa Hataoka in the third hole of a sudden death playoff to romp off with the champion’s trophy and $1 million in cash prize.
A sizable Filipino contingent from San Francisco Bay Area and nearby places watched in the golf course gallery and on television as Saso nailed a 10-foot birdie putt to clinch the victory and celebrated with her after the historic win.
Speaking in Filipino later, the golfing sensation thanked her countrymen who watched her achieve history.
“Sobrang malaki po ‘yung pasasalamat ko sa kanilang lahat sa pagpunta po dito. Alam ko na hindi po madali kumuha ng tickets, madaming tao, kailangan po nila makipag-siksikan,” she said. “Maraming salamat po. Ang dami niyo pong binigay sa akin na energy, salamat po.”
“There’s so many people holding up Philippines flags, and it’s really big. It made me really happy,” she said on ABS-CBN.
Among the earliest to congratulate Saso were Rio Olympics medalist Hidilyn Diaz and basketball stars Kai Sotto, Thirdy and Kiefer Ravena.
Malacanang and Congress also hailed her for her victory which made her the first Filipino to win the championship.
Saso, who first made history for the Philippines at the 2018 Asian Games by winning the first ever gold medal for the country in both women’s individual and team events, also became the second teenager to with the US Women’s Golf championship.
Malacañang congratulated Saso for her historic win while Congress considered a resolution formally congratulating her.
“Today is a great day in Philippine sports. The Palace greets Yuka Saso for bringing honor to the Philippines by winning the 2021 US Women’s Open,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press statement.
Roque recalled how President Rodrigo Duterte met Saso at Malacañan Palace when she was awarded a Presidential citation after winning the gold medal in the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia.
“She is indeed the pride and glory of our country. We are all proud of you. Congratulations,” he added.
Vice President Leni Robredo thanked Saso “for making history.”
“Iba talaga ang husay at puso ng kabataang Pinoy… Excited kami na mag-cheer para sa ’yo sa mas marami pang laban, panalo at pangarap,” she said on Twitter.
The Philippine Consulate in San Francisco also issued a congratulatory message for Saso.
“The Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco congratulates 19-year-old Filipina golfer Ms. Yuka Saso for winning the 2021 76th US Women’s Open in San Francisco! Mabuhay” the Consulate said in a statement posted on its official Twitter account.
Former sportscaster Emmanuel Manny Pinol also congratulated Saso in his social media post.
Former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy also hailed Yuka Saso for her historic victory.
With her win, Saso could officially be qualified for the Tokyo Olympics next month as she is currently ranked 22nd in the Olympic Golf Rankings, where the top 60 are to earn tickets to Tokyo.
Saso’s win came after she birdied the third playoff hole to beat Japan’s Nasa Hataoka.
The Philippine-born Saso, No. 40 in the Rolex Rankings and a two-time winner on the Japan LPGA, romped also with the top prize of $1 million.
“I’d like to thank my family, I wouldn’t be here without them,” she said through tears. “To all my sponsors and to all my friends and fans back in the Philippines and Japan, I’m so thankful.”
Saso, 19, shook off two early double bogeys, coming back with late birdies at 16 and 17 in a two-over 73 to thrust herself into a playoff with a four-under total of 280 for 72 holes.
As overnight leader Lexi Thompson faded, Hataoka carded a final-round 68, but after both she and Saso parred both holes of the two-hole aggregate playoff, it was Saso who came up with a birdie at the sudden-death third hole.
Saso matched South Korean Park In-bee as the youngest winners in the championship’s history at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, and earned her LPGA tour membership.
Saso started the day one shot off Thompson’s lead and was in trouble early with double bogeys at the second and third.
She was two-under the rest of the way, and had a long birdie putt to win at the 72nd hole. It didn’t drop, but she rattled in the par putt to force the playoff.
Thompson, seeking a second career major to go with her 2014 ANA Inspiration title, was five strokes up on the front nine and remained four up with eight to play.
A double bogey at 11 signaled the start of a slide and her bogey at 14 saw her lead down to two.
Unable to take advantage of the par-five 16th, she missed a five-foot par putt at the par-five 17th to fall into a tie for first.
At the 18th, Thompson’s approach found the front greenside bunker and she left a 10-foot putt to save par, and make the playoff, two feet short.
Thompson finished with a four-over par 75 that left her alone in third on 281.