Yuka Saso is now in the history books as the first Filipino golfer of either gender to win a Major with her gripping victory in the US Women’s Open at The Olympic Club yesterday.
The 19-year-old prodigy, who is of Japanese-Filipino parentage, edged Japan’s Nasa Hataoka with a 12-foot birdie on the third playoff to claim the title after both players had finished 72 holes tied on four-under-par. Saso also became only the second LPGA Tour winner from the Philippines, joining Jennifer Rosales who won twice in the mid-2000s.
The final round was a day of high drama indeed as The Olympic Club’s storied Lake Course proved more than a match for the world’s top women golfers.
For the first two-thirds of the day, it had looked as if Lexi Thompson would pick up her second Major title. But the American star squandered a five-shot at the turn as both Saso and Hataoka finished strongly. Saso birdied two of her last three holes while Hataoka picked up shots on 13, 14 and 16 en route to a closing 68. Thompson meanwhile dropped six shots on the back nine including a double bogey at 11 to fall one short of the playoff.
With nearby Daly City home to a large Filipino community, Saso’s numerous supporters cheered her on and unfurled the Philippines flag in celebration of her historic victory. “I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone,” said Saso, who carded rounds of 68, 67, 71 and 73.
Starting the final round one shot off Thompson’s lead, Saso looked to be out of contention when she made consecutive double bogeys at Holes 2 and 3. “I was actually a little upset. But my caddie talked to me and said, just keep on going; there’s many more holes to go. That’s what I did,” said Saso, who clawed back into contention with birdies at 7, 16 and 17.
Saso became the 21st player to make the US Women’s Open title her first LPGA Tour victory in her third appearance in the storied Major, following a T13 finish at Champions Golf Club in 2020 and a missed cut at the Country Club of Charleston in 2019. At 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, she ties Inbee Park’s record as youngest US Women’s Open champion.
“I was just looking at all the great players in here,” said Saso as she looked at the Harton S. Semple Trophy. “I can’t believe my name is going to be here.”
The win earned Saso a cheque for US$1,000,000 as well as a five-year LPGA Tour exemption. She immediately accepted LPGA Tour membership, making her a 2020/21 rookie.
Turing pro in November 2019, Saso won twice on the Japan LPGA Tour in 2020. As an amateur, she was the individual gold medalist in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia, teaming with Lois Kaye Go and Bianca Pagdanganan to take gold in the women’s team event as well.
Playing in the penultimate grouping alongside China’s Shanshan Feng and Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6, Hataoka did well to get into the playoff with Saso but was unable to claim her first Major.
This was the second time Hataoka had lost in a Major championship playoff in three years, following the 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship where she dropped out at the first extra hole and watched as Sung Hyun Park went on to defeat So Yeon Ryu.
“Today the wind was pretty strong, so I thought it might be difficult, but also with the score difference. But I told myself that I do have a chance. I keep trying and trying, and that’s where I am,” said Hataoka.
While obviously disappointed, Thompson was gracious in defeat. “It’s hard to smile but, I mean, it was an amazing week. Yeah, I played not so good today with a few of the bogeys coming in on the back nine, but the fans were unbelievable, hearing the chants and just gives me a reason to play,” she said.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling to be out here and play this golf course. I’ve never been out here, so it was a blessing, and I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years,” added Thompson, who has 11 LPGA titles including one Major at the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship but has not won since the ShopRite LPGA Classic two years ago.
Top amateur honours went to American high school junior Megha Ganne, who played in the final group with Saso and Thompson. Getting into the event via sectional qualifying, the 17-year-old from New Jersey closed with 77 and finished in T14 position on three-over-par (67-71-72-77).
“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. It’s everything I’ve wanted since I was little, so it’s just the best feeling,” said Ganne, who was making her second US Women’s Open appearance having missed the cut in 2019.