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The Rise of the Filipina Golfers

New Generation being led by Bianca Pagdanganan and Yuka Saso

 

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing number of players on the LPGA from Southeast Asia, predominantly from Thailand, but also from places like Malaysia and the Philippines. In fact, Jennifer Rosales was somewhat of a trailblazer for Filipina players on the LPGA becoming a member in 2000, eventually finishing her LPGA career with 2 - wins on the women's tour. She earned over $2.00 Million USD in career winnings on the LPGA.


Now, some 21 - years later, there are a pair of Filipinas leading a new generation in professional golf. To be sure, there have been a few players before them who have been playing professional golf. Players such as Dottie Ardina and Princess Superal among others have been playing professionally for a few years, but have not been able to really make a significant impact in professional golf at the top tier. Ardina has managed to play on the LPGA for several years now, but without any wins; her career earnings to date is $141, 259.


Bianca Pagdanganan flashes the "A-okay" sign at the NCAA tournament
Everything was "A-Okay" for Bianca at the University of Arizona

The emergence of both Bianca Pagdanganan and Yuka Saso is unprecedented for the Philippines in recent years. The teammates from the Gold Medal winning team at the 2018 Asian Games, have started to make an impression on the women's professional game.


First up was Bianca Pagdanganan, the long hitting Pinay player who played some superb golf at the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Aronimink. She carded a pair of 65's during the second and third rounds on her way to a share of 9th place in the major championship. It was the highest finish by a Pinay player since Jennifer Rosales 4th place finish at the 2004 US Women's Open.

Two time winner on the JLPGA - Yuka Saso of the Philippines holds the trophy aloft
Yuka Saso won twice on the JLPGA

By the time the US Women's Open Championship rolled around in December of 2020, both Filipina players were in the field, marking the first time that they both played in a professional event together. Yuka Saso took her turn to finish as the top Pinay player, making the cut and finishing with a share of 13th place. Her opening round 67 was her top score for the event, followed by her second round 71 which left her near the top of the leaderboard. Despite her impressive run at the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, Pagdanganan could not recreate her form, ultimately missing the cut in Houston. Both players were in the field again earlier this year at the ANA Inspiration — the LPGA's first major championship of the season.


The fact that two Pinay players were in the field for the last two major championships is a testament to the dedication, drive and skill of both Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan. They both have strong games; they both drive the ball very well, with Pagdanganan generally the longer of the two. Saso's iron game or approach game is a little stronger than Bianca's, but they both hit enough "Greens in Regulation" that they can make birdies. Saso has shown tremendous course management skills, particularly at the US Women's Open in Houston last December, where the weather and course conditions took a toll on the players, leaving par as a very good score.


Then we should also be mindful of Saso's success on the JLPGA where she has recorded a pair of wins in the last season. The JLPGA is generally regarded as the second most difficult tour in women's professional golf.


Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan representing the Philippines in professional golf
Teammates from the 2018 Asian Games Gold Medal golf team reunited for their first professional tournament together

Will Yuka or Bianca become superstars in women's golf? One or both may, but it depends on many different factors. Golf is a finnicky sport; one day a player feels terrible as if they could not sink a simple two-foot putt. Then there are other days when you feel like you cannot miss and the hole looks as big as a pizza, and you drain many long distance putts. But in order to truly become superstars in golf, they will both need to improve their games and win some big events.


For Yuka, she will need to get herself on to the LPGA quickly. Another year of golf on the JLPGA simply won't help her develop her game much further. She will need to experience the rigours and challenges of playing professional golf on the LPGA, playing against the best players in women's golf on a regular basis, while juggling the travel arrangements and accommodations. As for her game, it is pretty well rounded and solid, with a little success, Yuka will build her confidence and with more confidence, better golf usually follows.


With a strong driver and long game, the challenge for Bianca is different. She will need to continue working on her approach game; getting more accurate with her irons and hybrids so she can attack the pins a little more. The closer she can get to the pins with her approach shots, the more birdie opportunities she will have. Increasing the number of "greens in regulation" along with improving her "proximity to the hole", will serve Bianca well, giving her plenty of looks at potential birdies.


Of course, there is another aspect to it for Bianca. Similar to Yuka, Bianca needs to get herself more fully onto the LPGA; while she already is a member of the LPGA, she needs to improve her priority standing so that she can play in many more events than she can at present. As of now, she simply is not getting into enough events in which she can earn CME points and improve her position on the annual money list and that means she may have to requalify again via the Q-Series.


Nonetheless, the future of golf in the Philippines is looking bright. With two players of the calibre of Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan — playing at the top levels of women's professional golf, they will undoubtedly be role models, helping to inspire boys and girls to become the future generations of players from the Philippines. With continued success on the parts of Bianca and Yuka, there will be many more boys and girls that will be inspired by them and that is just simply good for the sport of golf.


 

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