Yuka Saso shares her experience as Champion and Competitor
Since becoming the US Women’s Open champion earlier this month, Yuka Saso has been on a bit of a whirlwind tour. She was inundated with messages of congratulations from friends, family and fans alike from the Philippines. She was awarded lifetime membership in at least one golf club in the Philippines; she received the US Women’s Open trophy, and she had the opportunity to attend last week’s US Open at Torrey Pines. She’s now a full member of the LPGA tour and playing in her first KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.
Being the first player from the Philippines, male or female, to win one of golf’s majors has thrust Yuka Saso into the national spotlight. She has received congratulations from notable Filipinos like boxing great Manny Paquiao among others. Upon winning the playoff at Olympic Club a few weeks ago, Saso’s first significant task was to respond to all of the congratulatory messages that she received.
“Obviously there's so many people who's cheering and messaging me after my win. I was very thankful, and it took me a while to get back to all the people, family and friends back home, but I think after four or five days I was able to get back to them.”
Of course, winning the US Women’s Open also comes with a rather large piece of silverware that is coveted by all who play women’s professional golf. So how did she cope with having the trophy in her possession for the first week? It would be safe to say that it hardly left her side for that week, before handing it back to the USGA to have her name engraved on it. Of course, the normally reserved and soft-spoken Filipina shared a side of herself that people are just getting to know. In response to a question as to whether she slept with the trophy like Jon Rahm did this past week, Saso responded with some humour.
“I did (sleep with the trophy). I posted on Instagram. Actually, my trophy stayed on the bed and I stayed on the couch. No, just kidding. Yeah, I slept with my trophy.”
Saso also attended the U.S. Open held at Torrey Pines last week as part of her whirlwind couple of weeks. The USGA looked after her with complimentary tickets to the event and even helped her track down Rory McIlroy for her to watch. She managed to take her own video recording of Rory’s swing, to add to her collection of YouTube videos. Despite not wanting to distract Rory from his mission, she was surprised nonetheless when he took the time to meet Yuka and share a conversation.
“We were already planning to watch the U.S. Open because we were planning to drive back to LA to some clubs, so I was going to ask the USGA if they could give me a ticket on Sunday if I made the cut, so I asked them for a ticket and they gave me a lot of tickets, so I was so happy. When I got there, of course I went to find Rory first, and they did a great job on guiding me to see Rory . . . I told them I don't want to disturb Rory because it's a big tournament, I want him to focus, as well, but Rory was very nice, and I think -- for me, it felt like he was happy also.”
In all of this is a major championship for Saso and it was not lost on her either, noting that she comes into this week with no expectations and will focus on playing golf and enjoying her first tournament as a full-fledged member of the LPGA.
“I don't really expect anything. I'm just more focusing on what I have to do with my game. I'm trying to improve every day to be a better golfer, to be a better person. I'll just do my best, and let's see the result. I just want to have fun and enjoy my first tournament being an LPGA member.”
Even though she spent much of her years growing up in the Philippines with its warm and humid climate, Saso believes that the heat and humidity of Atlanta will be one of the biggest challenges posed this week.
“I think the heat. I think it's going to be really hot, very humid, and the golf course, it's very beautiful and long, and it rained three days in a row, I think, so it was a little bit wet, played longer. I think I need to hit good tee shots down the fairway, so I'll have a chance to get on the green.”
Regardless of how this tournament plays out, Saso acknowledged that her experience playing on the Japanese LPGA was a terrific learning experience, preparing her for the intense competition that comes on the LPGA.
“Well, in Japan there's veteran pros that played here on LPGA and I played with them a couple times. The way they handle the scoring and then . . . I think they were more focused on what they have to do inside the golf course, and I think their course management, I think I learned a lot, also, because the fairways were narrow, greens are fast. The golf courses in Japan are hilly. I think that helped me to practice my shots on elevated shots. So yeah, I think those are the biggest things that I learned in Japan.”
As a new member of the LPGA, Yuka Saso will have a couple of friendly faces to welcome her. Aside from fellow compatriot, Bianca Pagdanganan, one of those will be the 2019 KPMG champion, Hannah Green who has known Saso over the years from their amateur days competing around the Asia Pacific region.
Speaking at her own media conference, Green commented on helping Saso celebrate at the Olympic Club. “(We’ve) known each other for probably seven, eight years. Although we haven't seen each other much in those few years, she's obviously ticked off a great thing. I'm really happy that she's joining our tour and going to come out and play with us. She's going to be a great player and probably one to watch.”
That’s definately a good reference from one major champion to another.