Teenage golfer Yuka Saso's triumph at the U.S. Women's Open was met with jubilation from her Japanese supporters Monday, with her father crying tears of joy as he watched her hoist the trophy.
"I didn't think she would win it this quickly. I'm so happy," Masakazu Saso said as he looked on at San Francisco's Olympic Club after her victory.
Born to a Filipino mother and Japanese father, Saso became only the third woman with Japanese citizenship to win a major title and tied the record for the youngest to win the tournament at 19 years, 11 months, 17 days.
"I always knew her power and mental fortitude would serve her well on the global stage," said Tatsuo Yamanaka, who oversees the golf team at Yoyogi High School in Tokyo where Saso graduated last year. "But I didn't think she would reach such great heights so soon.
"She's given a boost to the current team as well as other graduates who are working toward their goal. I hope she avoids injuries and continues building up her resume."
Saso holds dual Filipino and Japanese citizenship and represents the former on tour and in international competitions.
"We're very proud and happy for Yuka and for the Philippines," Bones Floro, secretary general of the National Golf Association of the Philippines, said by phone. "Yuka is the hero of everyone now. She's our role model.
"Obviously, we had a high hope…She has all the skills, and she has all the heart and the mind to actually win," Floro added. "Thank you for everything you do for our countrymen, and with your victory, continue achieving more and more."
Masakazu said his confidence faltered when his daughter carded two double bogeys early in the final round. His worry was proven to be unfounded when she managed two par-5 birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to move into a playoff with Nasa Hataoka.
"After the double bogeys on the second and third holes, I thought she was done for," he said. "She was lucky."
Asked how he plans to celebrate the victory with his daughter, Masakazu replied, "She's not the type to ask for things. That cup is what she wanted most."
In Ichikawa, Hyogo Prefecture, employees at Miuragiken Co., which manufactures the heads of Saso's irons, were ecstatic after her victory.
"It's been less than a year since we met. I'm very surprised and overjoyed she has accomplished such a great feat," said Jiro Teramura, an executive at the small company.
At the Fuso Country Club in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, about an 1½ hours by car from central Tokyo, where Saso enrolled as a junior member in 2016, deputy manager Tatsuya Karibe said her physical strength is a boon when competing abroad.
"Her physique is her strong point," Karibe said. "She's a long hitter, which allows her to be competitive in the U.S. Women's Open."
The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, also offered his congratulations, saying the playoff holes were "a fierce battle" but that Saso's perseverance led to her win.
Also praising Hataoka, Kato said he looks forward to the 22-year-old's future performances.
Hiroaki Owa, who heads Ibaraki's athlete development program for golf and has worked closely with Hataoka, said she can hold her head high in defeat.
"It's very rare to have a playoff (on the U.S. tour) between two Japanese. Hataoka may be dejected but this is good experience for the next time."
The Philippine Sports Commission also congratulated Saso.
"Since the Jakarta Asian Games, Yuka has showed her excellent talent," commission chairman William Ramirez said, referring to her winning two gold medals for the country at the 2018 Asian Games, one in the individual event and another in the team event.
"Coached by her Japanese father, Yuka is a very humble young athlete. Very dedicated to her craft."
Filipinos on social media erupted after the news of the teen's feat.
"#PinoyPride time! Bring out the flags and the chicken adobo!" Jason Rodriguez tweeted.
Saso's victory has also raised hopes among many Filipinos that she could bring home the first Olympic gold medal in any sport for the Philippines during the Tokyo Olympics, which are slated to start next month.
"Interesting to note that Filipinas are more likely to take home a medal in this year's Tokyo Olympics," Dino Maragay said on Twitter, mentioning Saso as one of several female Philippine athletes who could do so. "Filipina athletes rock!"
Saso was born in the Philippines and then moved to Japan.
When she turned 8, she asked her father Masakazu, a golf enthusiast, if she could return to the Philippines because she really loves golf and she wanted to pursue it seriously, according to Floro.
"Playing golf in Japan is so expensive, and golf courses are distant and not much accessible. But in the Philippines, we have lots of golf courses and it's affordable. And with that, her parents allowed her to go back to the Philippines," Floro explained.
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