Golf may not be a popular sport among everyday people in the Philippines but Yuka Saso is quickly proving to be a household name in the country. The power swinging parbuster has yet to officially qualify for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics but her rankings practically assure her of a spot in the sporting event.
Saso, the daughter of a Filipina mother and a Japanese father, is hoping to join pole vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnast Carlos Yulo, boxers Eumir Marcial and Irish Magno, and Rio 2016 silver medalist Hidilyn Diaz among others in the Philippines’ bid to secure that elusive gold medal.
The 19-year-old was born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan but moved to Japan at the age of four. The golf course was a sanctuary for Saso as she did not have many friends due to her inability to speak Japanese. Since she was eight, Saso has worked hard on the driving range and it certainly has paid off.
With her powerful swing, reminiscent of her golfing idol Rory McIlroy, Saso has shot into national prominence in the Philippines. She had an amazing 2018 where she was the first ever Filipina to bag gold in golf at that year’s Asian Games. She also won gold for the team competition with Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go in that event.
The 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires was also an important event for Saso. The finals was a nailbiter where Australian Grace Kim already clinched gold and Saso was in a three way tie with Italian Alessia Nobilo and Austrian Emma Spitz for the final two podium places. While Saso ultimately finished fourth, that event ultimately led her to have a more steely mindset when it comes to playoffs.
Saso has since turned pro after she earned an LGPA of Japan Tour card for 2020 and she looks to win more and more tournaments to place high enough to earn a shot at Olympic gold in Tokyo.
Saso has become a beacon for Philippine sport in general and golf specifically. She has since done numerous interviews and garnered praise and awards. Volleyball phenom Alyssa Valdez even said in an interview that she wanted to learn golf from Saso.
As a sign of recognition of being an elite Philippine athlete she was the sole awardee of the Philippine Sportswriters Association athlete of the year for 2020. She won the event before in 2018 along with Go and Pagdanganan for their performance in the 2018 Asian Games.
She can now be considered Philippine sports royalty as a multiple winner of the awards, as she joins heavyweights such as Paeng Nepomuceno, Lydia de Vega, and of course Manny Pacquiao.
Saso has said before that she hopes to become World number 1 when she’s 24 but has since conceded that she can be world number 1 whenever. When it comes to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Saso is looking to treat it as any other golfing tourney.
“Hope I can get in first and let’s see. But I always say whatever the tournament is, I just want to enjoy and learn from high ranked players.”, she said.
While she hasn’t technically qualified yet for the event, Saso has to be considered a strong bet to get the first ever Philippine Olympic gold. With her laser- like powerful swing and consistently improving short game and steelier mental fortitude, the golfer has all the tools to get to the top of that podium.
As for her plans for the future, Saso just keeps things simple.
“Learn every day and enjoy every moment”, she said.