Diamond in the rough now glistens so brightly

By Al S. Mendoza


YUKA Saso winning the U.S. Women’s Open championship on Monday reeked of history.

It did not only make her the first Filipino, male or female, to win one of golf’s nine majors in the world.

It also gave her multiple exemptions in the money-rich U.S. Tour for five years and 10 years in the U.S. Open.

And Saso is only 19 years old.

Ten years from now, she’d only be, by the grace of God, 29.

Imagine the tons of money she will have probably accumulated by then.

If she will surpass Manny Pacquiao’s boxing winnings by that time, I’d be the least surprised.

And why not?

Each golf major offers at least $1 million to the winner.  And there are five women’s majors each year.

Incredibly, Saso has one of the soundest swings in golf today—one that can win her oodles of cash, barring unforeseen events.

I know.  I played with her three years ago at the plush Manila Golf Club inside Forbes Park in Makati.

I was so mesmerized, enthralled no end, by the way she played that after the round, I told her: “You are a diamond in the rough, Yuka.”

“Thank you, Tito,” she said.  “I hope I can continue improving my game.”

Some months after that, she won the gold medal in the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games.  She was barely 16 then.

You know how she did it?

Down by two shots going to the par-5 18th and final hole of the last round, Saso landed a 4-iron from 216 yards on the fringe, then rammed home the 18-footer for eagle to win the gold running away.

So decisive was her final-hole performance that her tournament-leading rival from China crumbled and collapsed with a quadruple bogey.

That made it a double-gold victory for the Philippines as Saso’s solid last round also anchored a golden team victory with Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kay Gan.

Her Asian Games victory signaled the coming of a star.

Turning professional the following year, Saso, whose father is a Japanese married to a Filipina from San Ildefonso, Bulacan, would invade the money-rich Japanese Tour.

In no time, Saso would win two tournaments in Japan worth millions of pesos.

Her Japanese feats also earned her a ticket to the U.S. Open last year, where she debuted with a decent 13th-place finish in the world’s grandest stage of women’s golf.

Then in her second U.S. tournament this year, the Lotte Championsip known as the Hawaiian Open last April, Saso took the 36-hole lead with two straight 64s.

Although she settled for third after a 71-70 finish, her rivals took notice.

She finally uncorked her killer punch with that win in the U.S. Open at the brutish OIympic Club in San Francisco, California, USA, netting her $1 million (roughly P50M!).

Down five shots after only three holes in the fourth and final round, Saso soldiered on—trusting unbendingly on the magic of a stroke that is near-flawless.

After forcing a playoff with a clutch par-putt in the 18th after gunning down birdies on 16 and 17, Saso sank a pressure-packed 10-foot right-to-left curler in the third sudden-death to defeat Japan’s Nasa Hataoka and win her first major by a stunning birdie.

Welcome to the big league, Yuka.

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