Despite Yuka Saso’s preference for a Japanese passport instead of the Philippines, the Filipinos’ high regard for the current U.S. Open golf champion never wavered a bit.
Time and again, she has always repeated that she will always be proud to be a Filipino, and she will forever be a Filipino.
She was born in the Philippines, she speaks the language fluently and she loves anything about Filipino.
For that, the entire country, including the Palace has expressed its wholehearted support to the Filipina-Japanse golfing phenom.
Executive Secretary Salvador Medildea delivered Malacanang’s message of support in all his future endeavors during a recent event at the Philippine Postal Corporation (Post Office) in Lawton, Manila.
Medildea commended Saso for her U.S. Open conquest and for making golf alive again in the country.
Medildea was a guest of honor when the Post Office honored Yuka with commemorative stamps to celebrate her U.S. Open victory. An avid golfer himself, Medildea has been aware of Saso’s achievements in the local scene as a youngster.
At an early age, she has actively represented the Philippines in golf tournaments.
In 2014, Yuka won the Visayas Regional Amateur and Alex Montelibano Memorial Tournaments as well as the Sabah International Juniors Masters. Two years later, she won the gold in the World Juniors Girls Championship.
Then in 2028, she won two gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia at 17 years old.
For her feats, including the U.S. Open last year, she earned praises from her fellow Filipino athletes like volleyball superstar Alyssa Valdez, who wants Yuka to teach her how to play golf, and even boxing legend Manny Pacquiao.
The now 20-year-old Saso, who is in the country for a two-week visit, will also be honored by the country’s sportswriting fraternity, the Philippine Sportswriters Association during its Annual Awards on March 14 at the Diamond Hotel for lifting Philippine sports on the world stage.
Aside from touching base with her relatives and friends, Yuka admitted that it is still best to train here in the Philippines for his upcoming tournaments. She specifically mentioned Wack Wack Golf as her home fairway and favorite.
To acclimatize with the weather in Southeast Asia, she used the break to come home and prepare for the Women’s World Championship on 3-6 March at Sentosa’s Tanjong course in Singapore and the Honda LPGA Thailand on 10-13 March in Pattaya’s Old course in Chonburi.
“I think there is some advantage when it comes to time – more or less, jet lag compared to those players coming from the United States,” she said.
Yuka admitted missing everything Pinoy—food, friends, golf courses, former teammates, and stints with the national squad and her beloved grandmother in Bulacan.
She loves everything Pinoy and that choosing a Japanese passport was a strategy to further advance her budding pro golf career.
“Time management is very important for us athletes,” she said. “And having a Japanese passport makes our – as a team, time management easier because we travel a lot.”
She was referring to her and her team’s decision to switch citizenship late last year, a move that left her with the Japanese flag in all her tournaments starting last month—and left some of her Filipino fans a bit downcast.
She, however, reiterated her position with regards to the issue for the nth time.
“The main reason in choosing Japanese citizenship is the passport (which) I will use to travel. But first. I’m super proud of being half-Japanese, half-Filipino, and that will never change,” said the ICTSI-backed ace. “
In fact, she attributes her remarkable positive approach to any task, to any challenge to the Filipinos’ traits.
“Being positive, making the most of the difficult situations,” she said. “And I missed the food, my friends, the golf courses, and my lola.”
After serving the national team, the last in the Asian Games where she steered the Phl to a two-gold sweep in Jakarta in 2018, Saso left the country in late 2019 in pursuit of a dream, which actually took a misstep when she fell short of her bid in the LPGA Q-Series.
But that setback only motivated her to get better, trying her luck instead, on the Japan tour where she made quite an impression, winning back-to-back championships in her first three tournaments and posting six other Top 10 finishes in her rookie season.
That boosted her world ranking to No. 46, paving the way for a number of invites to top-notch LPGA events, including the US Women’s Open where she placed tied for 13th in her first crack in the world’s premier championship in 2020.
On her second try, she won it via playoff over Japan’s Nasa Hataoka, virtually changing her career, and life, forever.
She’s now on her fifth year as an LPGA member and topping that by a major win and a dream meeting with idol Rory McIlroy.
Saso reached as high as No. 5 in the world ranking last October before dropping to No. 8 and then moving a notch higher heading to the resumption of the LPGA Tour next month.
Still a lot of mountains to conquer for Saso, and she’s not slowing down.