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Yuka chooses Japanese nationality

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Yuka Saso marks her return to the LPGA of Japan Tour the uncanny way – declaring her decision to choose Japanese nationality on the eve of the TOTO Japan Classic in Shiga Prefecture.

Born to a Japanese father and Filipino mother, the 20-year-old Saso on Wednesday revealed her citizenship preference when she reaches the age of 22 to a Japanese news portal.

Saso has represented the Philippines since she started competing overseas, including the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018 and just recently in the Tokyo Olympics, where she was virtually pressured to make a choice.

“I thought I wouldn’t decide whether or not I could participate in the Olympics,” she said. “I have in my heart that I am both Japanese and Filipino no matter which one I choose.”

Under the Japanese nationality law, dual citizens must select their nationality by the age of 22.

For now, however, Saso will continue to don the country’s tri-colors, setting out for the $2 million TOTO Classic with so much enthusiasm, this being her first LPGA of Japan Tour event since finishing tied for ninth in the Bridgestone Open last May.

She campaigned in the US since then, eventually gaining a five-year membership status on the LPGA Tour following her major breakthrough in the US Women’s Open last June.

“I am full of gratitude for being able to play in Japan again,” said the two-time JLPGA winner with six other Top 10 finishes.

The event could not have put up a more explosive start than pit a returning Saso against local darling and resurgent Hinako Shibuno and veteran Momoko Ueda in the first two rounds of the TOTO Classic at the Seta Golf’s North course.

Shibuno, meanwhile, bounced back strong from a missed cut stint in the Nobuta Group Masters in Hyogo two weeks ago with a playoff victory over Korean Bae Seon Woo in the Mitsubishi Electric tournament last week, shooting an eagle on the first sudden death hole.

Saso lost by three to Jiyai Shin despite a closing 63 in last year’s TOTO Classic played over 54 holes in Ibaraki but the ICTSI-backed ace is upbeat of her chances this week despite lack of preparations due to health and safety protocols.

“I’m now sure (how I’m feeling) because I couldn’t do anything during the quarantine period,” said Saso, who slipped a spot lower to No. 6 in the latest world rankings. “But I’ll do my best to prepare for tomorrow (today) and get better.”

Meanwhile, Saso heads back to the US next week to compete in the LPGA Tour’s last two events, the Pelican Championship on 11-14 Nov. and the CME Group Tour Championship on 18-21 Nov., both in Florida.

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