Winning an LPGA Tour card after her first major triumph at last year’s US Women’s Open was a “life-changing” experience for Yuka Saso, the Japanese-Filipino golfer told Reuters on Wednesday.
Saso fought back after a horror start to win the title in a sudden death playoff game in San Francisco last June, earning a five-year circuit card and heralding herself as a new force in women’s golf. , which is largely dominated by South Koreans.
“It changed his life,” the 20-year-old Filipino-born said in an interview from the United States.
“Since then I’ve been playing on the LPGA Tour and every week I’m learning a lot and really enjoying my journey, so I’m very grateful.
“It’s not even a year yet, but everyone is great. They’re so friendly and if I have any questions, they’re all happy to help me. To be on the stage I’ve always dreamed of, It’s awesome.”
The world number 15 said she will be heading into the unknown when she defends her title at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in North Carolina next month.
“It will be my first tournament as defending champion, so I don’t know what will happen,” Saso said.
“I don’t know what to expect, so I’ll try to enjoy it, try to prepare like I do for other events…I’ve been working on my overall game.
“It’s a long process but I try to enjoy everything and not rush anything. But no major changes or anything.”
Saso, the daughter of a Filipina mother and a Japanese father, first rose to prominence at the 2018 Asian Games, where she won individual and team gold medals for the Philippines.
She represented her mother’s nation when she won her major and at the Tokyo Olympics last year, but has opted to play for her father’s country since last November in order to retain her Japanese passport.
“I’m very proud to be half-Japanese and half-Filipino,” said Saso, who had to make the call before his 22nd birthday under Japanese law.
“Everyone knows how powerful a Japanese passport is and in the job we have we always travel and being comfortable with travel documents will help a lot off the golf course.
“It wasn’t really a change, because I’m both. It’s another trip I get to represent my father’s country and I’m very grateful for that.
“It was not an easy decision, because everyone is used to seeing my name and having the flag of the Philippines next to it, but I hope everyone can understand and be happy.”
Saso said she hoped to compete in the Asian Games, which were due to be held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in September but postponed to 2023 due to the country’s COVID-19 situation.
“It’s understandable,” Saso said of China’s decision. “I think safety comes first… But for other athletes it’s not easy because they’ve been preparing for this event for years.
“I hope they will be understanding and try to be patient and be prepared.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)