The Philippines’ Yuka Saso is just into her third tournament in the rich Japanese Ladies Tour, but has already sent fears into the hearts of her rivals following back-to-back-victories that made her the talk of the town at present.
The Filipino-Japanese latest conquest was a two-shot win in the Nitori Ladies tournament in Hokkaido where she showed nerves of steel as she withstood the fierce challenge of a local bet, a fitting followup to an amazing breakthrough triumph in the NEC Karuizawa in Nagano early in Auigust.
With at least 12 more tournaments lined up for the year cut short by the global health crisis restrictions, the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist and two-time Philippine Ladies Open titlist could be looking at a couple more victories – or perhaps three or four, depending on the challenge her rivals would put up the rest of the season.
What makes her doubly scarier is that she feels she was just starting to heat up.
“I have just begun and I have a long way to go,” said Saso when asked about her enthusiasm for the future following her two-stroke triumph over Sakura Koiwai in the Nitori Ladies to complete a stirring back-to-back title romp.
But she quickly toned down her expectations, saying: “I will do my best without focusing too much on it.”
That’s what probably separates Saso from the rest this early of her pro career – focus. Aware of the challenge awaiting her in the Nitori Ladies, she hit Hokkaido days ahead of the event to acclimatize and familiarize herself with the Otaru Country Club. Clutching a one-stroke lead into the final round, she left her hotel three hours before the original tee-time, only to find out that the start had been moved by two hours due to bad weather.
“I just walked around there for an hour-and-a-half. I wanted to sleep but I thought it was rude to do so,” she said.
So she poured it all out on the course, dumping all the negative thoughts that could sidetrack her attention.
“Golf is a game, concentration matters. Rather than being aware of the opponent, I went on my way without thinking of them. I am aiming for a birdie in all holes because if I make a slight mistake, I would still have a chance for a par or bogey at worse,” said Saso.
“I did not look at the leaderboard. I don’t even know my score. I’m fighting for the championship and there were too many things to think and do with my own game,” she added.
Gifted with an awesome power, which she developed and sharpened, along with her skills in short game, including putting, through long hours of practice and drills, the ICTSI-backed ace has established herself this early as the yardstick among the best and the brightest in the lucrative circuit.
Veteran Fujita Saito saw it first hand how to be ranged against the ace Fil-Japanese shotmaker. In the final round of the NEC Karuizawa, Saso flaunted her power in the closing holes, shooting a late eagle that served as gravy for an already settled outcome.
“I feel like it’s not a women’s tour. It’s like playing with Tiger Woods,” said the 34-year-old Saito, a certified power-blaster who still yielded around 20 yards to Saso off the mound, in jest.
Slugging it out with Saso in a virtual match play in Nitori, Koiwai grabbed control early on but succumbed to pressure, fumbling with a couple of three-putts that ruined her bid then credited her rival’s tremendous power.
“She’s really a strong player. I felt the difference,” said Koiwai.