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Yuka Saso emerges winner in the first USGA Women’s Championship at Olympic Club, which had hosted four US Opens.
ILLUSTRATION: echo antonio

ONLY the birds dared break the silence as Yuka Saso stared at an eight foot putt on her third trip to No. 9 one Sunday afternoon in June at Olympic Club. Television cameras picked up the soft click from the face of the large blade as Saso curled it right to left before the roar of the crowd drowned out the sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup.

What started as a ladies golf major tournament on Thursday in San Francisco concluded at week's end as a major event in Philippine sports.

With birdie on the third playoff hole, Saso edged Nasa Hataoka for the 2021 US Women’s Open Championship.

That put Saso’s name in several entries in the books.

At 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, she tied Inbee Park of Korea as the youngest and only teens to top the USGA’s premier women’s tournament.

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She joined a small group of stars who won majors before turning 20 — Lydia Ko, Brooke Henderson, Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson, Yani Tseng and Park.

And a record that will never be erased: The first from the Philippines to win a golf major.

On a punishing layout made even more demanding under US Open conditions — only four other players wound up in red numbers through 72 holes at Lake Course — Saso displayed tremendous skill.

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Against a field much tougher than the Tokyo Olympics would host at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Saso showed nerves of steel.

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Indelible mark

The Philippine flag was prominently displayed on page one of the early leaderboard. After a slip on a tough moving day and some nerve-racking moments in the finale, Saso rose to make that an indelible tri-color mark on the top left hand corner of the US Women’s Open scoresheet.

She earned the Mickey Wright gold medal. The Harton S. Semple Trophy for a year. A seven-figure payday.

Most important for Filipinos, from weekend hackers to young aspiring shotmakers — and on that Monday morning in the Philippines, even the casual sports enthusiast — an inspiration to go out and be better.

Because Saso proved there’s always a way out of crazy-deep rough.

For this, Spin.ph lined up Yuka Saso among the Sports Heroes of 2021.

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The Breakout Star of the Year, Saso shone in the most trying times in sport.

Who else to emerge sports hero in the new normal than the athlete in the game that is perfect for social distancing.

But Saso is also an inspiration not only to Filipinos. Born to a Filipina mother and Japanese father, Saso’s triumph is celebrated in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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This victory, and the next.

When she sets out for her second LPGA title, vies again in the majors or chase an Olympic gold, Saso will be flying another country’s flag, possibly playing against other Filipinas.

For now, a toast to Yuka Saso and her fine season.

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Yuka Saso emerges winner in the first USGA Women’s Championship at Olympic Club, which had hosted four US Opens.
ILLUSTRATION: echo antonio
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