Yuka Saso: Five things you didn't know

She is the top female golfer from the Philippines, and the second ever teenager to win the US Women’s Open. But here’s what else you need to know about Yuka Saso.

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Yuka Saso made golf history when she beat Japan’s Nasa Hataoka in a playoff on Sunday (6th June) to become the first Filipino player to win the US Women’s Open.

With a major trophy to her name, the 19-year-old Saso's meteoric rise continues swiftly upwards.

Now, the teenage sensation, ranked 22 in the world, is on the cusp of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, in 2021.

Here are five things to know about the trail blazing golfer who hasn't stopped excelling after she announced herself onto the scene at the Asian Games 2018.

1 - Yuka Saso models her game after Rory McIlroy

Everyone has a source of inspiration, not least athletes.

For Saso, it is Rory McIlroy who is the muse, and it is all but evident in her drive: one of her most powerful weapons. Hitting around 280m, the length of and accuracy of her stroke certainly has a flavour of the four-time men's major champion.

Speaking to Olympics.com, she details the extent of her admiration:

“I watch Rory almost everyday on YouTube, I watch him maybe an hour or so, and then I watch a movie and sleep.”

“I like his swing, I like how he hits the ball and I like how he plays, how he manages the golf course and I like his attitude on the course.”

Tokyo will play setting to the meeting of these two great golfers, and Saso will likely offer him her gratitude. Just ahead of the final round of the US Open McIlroy mentioned his greatest admirer on Instagram.

2 - Saso is Japanese-Filipino

The Asian Games double gold medal winner was first introduced to clubs by her Japanese father, Masakazu.

Although born in the Philippines, Saso spent her early years in Japan.

Struggling to embrace her new home, her father introduced his daughter to a driving range, and like a duck to water, she just couldn’t stop hitting a golf ball.

“When I was nine I said to my dad, I want to be a professional golfer like Rory [McIlroy].”

Believing in young Yuka and her abilities, Masakazu returned to the Philippines with his daughter so that they could work on making her dream a reality.

Yuka Saso from the 12th tee during the final round of the Augusta National Women's Amateur on April 06, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

3 - You won’t find her jamming to BTS

Like most teenagers her age, the Philippines’ female No.1 knows what she likes when it comes to popular culture. She relied on music during lockdown to help her power through. Her favourites?

BTS are fine but they’re not my favourite,” Saso shares.

“I like TWICE, Blackpink, Sam Smith, Daniel Padilla, he looks really good, I like him!”

4- Alyssa Valdez wants some lessons

Saso’s golfing exploits have helped her capture the hearts of a nation. Her victories at the Asian Games saw her become an overnight sensation, and she hasn’t stopped accumulating followers.

At the Olympic Club there was a large contingent of Filipinos on hand to support Saso towards her maiden major.

Among her growing fan-base is none other than volleyball star and fellow countrywoman Alyssa Valdez. The reality TV and social media A-lister (some 3 milion across Twitter and Instagram) shared that she wanted Saso to teach her golf:

Valdez told Rappler, “I really want someone to teach me because I haven’t had formal golf training, so I want to be trained by a golf champion, I’m really looking forward to watch her live.”

It’s not just Valdez that is enamoured, former world No. 1 Sung Hyun Park has also showered the youngster with praise.

Yuka Saso joins the LPGA Japan in December 2019. (Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

5 - Tokyo 2020 won’t be her first Olympic event representing the Philippines

Following her roaring success at the Asian Games, questions were asked whether Saso was the real deal.

The sceptics were answered when Saso got a taste of the Olympic experience at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires a couple of months later.

After finishing the third and final day of strokeplay on 4 over par, the Filipino was in contention for a silver or bronze medal. But first, there was a three-way play-off. To describe Saso as nervous was an understatement:

“I just didn’t have the confidence,” she recollects. “I was telling my coach I don’t know how to feel about it, I don’t know how to play the play-off holes.”

A single dropped shot meant that Saso ultimately missed out.

It is an experience though, that she undoubtedly grew from and has taken in her stride. Consider how she won her first US Open, in a playoff.

The ever-expectant Filipino gaze will once again fall on Saso in July 2021 when she steps up to the tee in Tokyo.

McIlroy and a shot an Olympic medal? What an occasion it will be for Yuka Saso.

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