Yuka Saso, so resolute with her dream of becoming world No. 1, continued to blaze the trail for Philippine golf, barging into No. 9 in the latest Rolex rankings for an astounding 31-spot jump following her victory in the US Women’s Open in San Francisco last Sunday.
The 19-year-old Filipino-Japanese’s stirring rise to the elite group proved just as stunning as her US Open victory as she had just a year-and-a-half to climb from below No. 200 spot when she debuted in late 2019 to move within nine rungs from realizing what seemed to be a near-impossible dream given all the talents who dominate women’s golf in the last decade or so.
But a failed bid in the LPGA Tour Q-School turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the ICTSI-backed shotmaker, who gained a card in the LPGA of Japan Tour and quickly claimed two victories and posted six other Top 10 finishes in the pandemic-shortened season in 2020.
That sparked her surge in the world standing, the JLPGA being one of the ranking tournaments. At end of 2020, she leapfrogged to No. 45, slipped to No. 47 in March before improving to No. 40 coming into the US Open week.
But it seems Saso was the last to know about the impressive increase in her world ranking.
“Sorry, I’m not aware,” she told a handful of sportswriters in a media availability session.
“I just learned it from you. But of course, I’m happy.”
Despite her fine start in the world’s premier women’s championship that even saw her grab the halfway lead, Saso never expected she would hoist the Harton Semple trophy in the end.
Although Lexi Thompson’s backside meltdown opened the door for a Saso comeback, the latter still needed to flash her resiliency, her never-die-spirit after reeling to as many as five shots back with a horrible start at the Olympic Club’s Lake course.
She also needed to toughen up in a nerve-wracking stage to subdue an equally dogged Nasa Hataoka on the third playoff hole, sinking a 10-footer to clinch it in a victory that was also a triumph of the spirit for a young, but talented, shotmaker who also dreams of delivering the first Olympic gold for the Philippines.
“I want to bring joy to Filipinos by becoming their first-ever world No. 1 golfer and to finish on top of the Olympic podium,” Saso said.
She practically repeated that line after her US Open victory but quickly added that it’s still a long process (to become No. 1) and would entail a lot of hard work to fulfil her childhood dream.
Saso earned 5.52 points from her US Open caper for a total of 193.29 points in 33 tournaments.
She drove past Hataoka (No. 10), New Zealand’s multi-titled ace Lydia Ko (No. 11) and recent ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit (No. 12).
At the same time, she shouldered herself past a slew of aces and into the world Top 10, the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist also moved to No. 9 in the Olympic rankings, officially claiming her spot in the Tokyo Games from 28 July to 8 August.
The women’s event will be played from 4 to 7 August at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama with the Tokyo-based Saso hoping to cash in on the proverbial homecourt advantage in an attempt to clinch the elusive medal for the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Bianca Pagdanganan has also secured a berth in the 60-player Olympic field with a No. 42 ranking, together with Juvic Pagunsan, who is at No. 51 in the men’s side, also following a breakthrough in Japan PGA recently, with two weeks left in the qualifying period.