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Talking Golf with Yuka Saso & Bianca Pagdanganan

Winning the US Women’s Open, the Tokyo Olympics, and Playing with the Men on Tour

 

With only a possible two events remaining this year, we recently sat down with two players to discuss the season on the LPGA. Yuka Saso won the 2021 United States Women’s Open at San Francisco’s famed Olympic Club, coming from behind on the Final Day to tie for the lead before winning in a playoff. She was also the top seeded player from the Philippines at the recent Tokyo Olympics.

Bianca Pagdanganan announced herself to the golfing world last season at the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship hosted at Aronomink near Philadelphia. Pagdanganan shot two rounds of 65 on Friday and Saturday on her way to a share of 9th place at the major championship.

They joined us on our podcast show, We're Talking Golf., to discuss their experiences and answer questions about competing in the Olympics, and life on the LPGA. Click below to listen to the podcast show.

 
 
Yuka Saso holding the USWO trophy
Yuka Saso became the first player from the Philippines to win a major championship in Golf.

Yuka Saso

Yuka Saso was born in the Philippines in San Ildefonso with a Filipina mother and Japanese father. She had a stellar amateur career, representing the Philippines at the 2018 Asian Games, helping the team capture first place in the team competition while she also took top honours in the Individual category. Other notable teammates at the Asian Games included Lois Kaye Go and Bianca Pagdanganan.

Prior to joining the LPGA Tour this season, Saso played on the Japanese LGPA, winning twice in her inaugural season in 2020. She is currently ranked 5th in the Rolex World Rankings and 14th in the LPGA’s CME Global Standings.


Smiling Bianca Pagdanganan
Bianca Pagdanganan was the first player form the Philippines to finish in the top 10 of an LPGA Major championship since Jennifer Rosales

Bianca Pagdanganan

We first met Bianca last season, when she joined us a guest on our podcast show in December. She quickly gained prominence on tour for her prodigious length off the tee box with booming drives that finished over 300 yards on many occasions. She also made impressions with her strong performance at the 2020 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, finishing with a share of 9th place. She followed up her steady play at the LPGA’s Drive On event held at Lake Reynolds, Georgia with a solo 3rd place finish. Bianca is currently ranked 175th in the world and 124th in the LPGA’s Race to the CME Globe.

[ Link to Story on Bianca ]


The 2021 US Women’s Open

If you could win any tournament on the LPGA, which one would it be? It’s a frequent question asked of LPGA players and most respond with the United States Women’s Open. It is not only one of the oldest championships in women’s golf, but it also comes with the biggest prize money on offer, and the instant recognition that goes with it. This past June, after four grueling rounds, 75 holes of golf, including 3-playoff holes, Yuka Saso eventually emerged as the champion.

Yuka Saso fist pump
Jubilation after sinking the putt to win the 2021 US Women's Open
For Saso, there were two key things that helped her refocus. One was the timely intervention from her caddie Lionel that helped settle her jitters or nerves and refocus on her game, shot by shot. The other was the countless hours of practice both on the putting green and on the practice range and the confidence that instills that helped her bounce back from the rough start to force the playoff and ultimately win.
 

She entered the Final Round of play in sole possession of 2nd place at -6 under, 1-shot behind crowd favourite Lexi Thompson, and 3 shots ahead of amateur Megha Ganne and Jeongeun Lee (Lee6 as she is often referred to). Playing in the last group with Lexi Thompson and Megha Ganne, Saso had the playing advantage of being able to know what the leader was doing throughout the entire round. It started off with a routine par for Saso. Even though Thompson made birdie on the opening hole to take a two-shot lead over Saso, there was still plenty of golf to come.

Trusting the Process

Rather than settling down and stringing together several pars, things took an immediate turn for the worse as Saso missed the fairway with her tee shot on the second hole, eventually leading to a double bogey 6. Fortunately, the damage was limited to one stroke dropped as Thompson bogeyed the hole. On the very next hole, a 191-yard, par-3, Saso missed the green with her tee shot, got into trouble, finishing the hole with another double bogey. Thompson’s par meant that Saso was now 5-shots back of Thompson after 3-holes. It seemed that Saso was seized with nervousness, but a timely bit of reassurance from her caddie, Lionel helped her refocus.

Champion, Yuka Saso playing a shot from the greenside sand bunker
Yuka Saso called on her short game skills to help her save par on many occasions at Olympic Club
 

“First hole I was pretty calm, but you know going into second hole and third hole, which make the fairways play narrower, I felt a little bit nervous. I think that cost me, hit it to the rough, but yeah, I think after a few hacks like a machete, Lionel talked to me and said ‘you know, there’s lots of holes left. Try to get back into the game and focus on what I have to do shot by shot’ and that relaxed me a bit and made me focus on my routine.”

While Thompson made the turn for the back nine at Olympic Club with a 9-hole score of 34, -1 under par, Saso’s early troubles saw her make the turn with a 38, +3 shots over par and four more dropped shots to the leader. A birdie on the par 4, 7th hole helped Saso to limit the damage to 4-shots. Megha Ganne, the other player in the final group went out in 41 (+6), taking her out of contention altogether.

Both Saso and Thompson recorded pars on the 10th hole, before running into more trouble on the 415-yard, par-4, 11th hole. This time, it was Thompson that dropped 2-shots with a double bogey 6 while Saso dropped one shot with a bogey 5. Saso clawed one shot back from the leader. Saso was back to within 4 shots of a share of the lead with 7-holes remaining.

Saso settled down again, stringing together 4 – consecutive pars heading into a pair of par-5’s on Holes 16 and 17. Meanwhile, Thompson dropped another shot with a bogey 5 on the 14th hole. Thompson’s lead over Saso was now 3-strokes with only 3-holes remaining. It was “crunch time”, where a player knows that they either play it safe, make 3-straight pars, collecting a healthy sized cheque for their efforts, or throw caution to the wind, trying to score some birdies on Holes 16 and 18, while making an eagle on the reachable par-5, 17th hole. The scenario was not lost on Saso either as she started considering her options after Thompson’s bogey on the 14th hole.

“After 14, I was kind of thinking of the two par-5’s on 16 and 17, thinking I need birdies on the par-5’s to finish good. And I was able to do that and one the last hole (18th) I wasn’t really thinking about it. We were just thinking about how to make a good score and that was really it.”

Saso birdied both par-5’s while Thompson could only muster a par and another bogey on the 17th hole. As they walked off the green at 17, Nasa Hataoka was on the 18th green, putting for birdie that would get her into the clubhouse with a -5 under 67 and a low score of 279. She missed her birdie putt but sank the next one to finish at 280.

Saso and Thompson exchange fist bumps after completing their rounds
Lexi Thompson congratulates Yuka Saso upon making the playoff.

The stage was set for the last two remaining contenders. Yuka Saso, with the honours, lead off with her tee shot. Her shot landed on the left centre of the fairway, long enough to give her a good shot at the green. Thompson, one of the longest hitters on tour, played a solid, long tee shot leaving her a short iron shot to the green.

As it was, Saso’s second shot made it to the green, while Thompson miscalculated the wind, taking a shorter club, playing a shot that fell short into the greenside bunker.

Saso would go on to par the hole to force a playoff with Nasa Hataoka. Thompson played a nice shot out of the bunker, leaving her with a slight downhill putt to save par. A timid putt came up short of the hole. Thompson went from a 5-shot lead to missing the playoff altogether.

For Saso, there were two key things that helped her refocus. One was the timely intervention from her caddie Lionel that helped settle her jitters or nerves and refocus on her game, shot by shot. The other was the countless hours of practice both on the putting green and on the practice range and the confidence that instills that helped her bounce back from the rough start to force the playoff and ultimately win.

Yuka Saso with the Trophy
Yuka Saso in the media centre after winning the 2021 US Women's Open in a playoff.

 

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