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    Yuka Saso vows to stay grounded after life-changing major success

    Dec 30, 2021

    YUKA Saso finally had time to reflect on her breakthrough year, and it still felt like a blur.

    Winning the U.S. Women's Open with a birdie on the third playoff hole at Olympic Club was a life-changer. Meeting her golf idol, Rory McIlroy, the following week during the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines might have been even more memorable.

    “Meeting Rory was my dream,” she said with a laugh. “But I was happy I won the U.S. Open.”

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      But when Saso says it's hard to grasp her success, that goes beyond winning the Open for the 20-year-old of Filipino and Japanese heritage.

      It was only two years ago when she turned pro after earning a Japan LPGA card. She was just getting started when the pandemic began and shut down golf for nearly five months.

      When she returned, Saso tied for fifth in Japan, and then the next four JLPGA events were canceled. She won the next Japan event for her first pro victory, and after another event was canceled, she made it two in a row by winning the Nitori Ladies.

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      As her world ranking improved, Saso began getting into majors, and she cashed in at Olympic after Lexi Thompson fell apart on the back nine.

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      Major champ

      Major champion has a nice ring to it. But it was a lot to take in.

      “Everything happened too fast,” Saso said in a telephone interview. “I still have a lot to learn from the other pros. I think I have the game to be able to win tournaments, but I feel like there's still things I can improve on to be a better golfer.”

      There have been tales over the years of players winning majors early and then feeling as though they have to live up to their new status. Saso doesn't think that will happen to her.

      “Winning a major doesn't affect how I think,” she said. “To stay the way I am before winning a major should be able to help me stay grounded.”

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      Saso has time on her side. She knew that winning the Women's Open would give her status on the LPGA Tour. She just didn't realize it came with a five-year exemption, and her reaction at Olympic upon hearing the news was refreshingly honest.

      “Five years is a big deal. It was my dream to play on the LPGA,” Saso said.

      She starts next year with a new endorsement deal with AXA Asia and Africa, the first time the global insurer has partnered with an Asian sports champion on a regional level. This wasn't simply the spoils that come with winning.

      Saso says the company reached out to her through Instagram earlier in the year.

      “I didn't know if it was real because it was an Instagram message,” she said. “I emailed and they said, ‘Yeah, happy to hear from you.’ It was in the middle of the season, and I had tournaments to play, so I wasn't able to go through it.

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      "But that gave me confidence that some big company was interested in me, and I wanted to play better. Because at the time, I thought having those two wins in Japan wasn't enough. And then soon after, I won the U.S. Open.”

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