Yuka Saso admits she spent hours watching videos of Rory McIlroy’s swing as she honed her own growing up; now the Philippines teenager is a star in her own right after winning the US Open in a playoff on Sunday.
Saso benefitted from a back-nine collapse by American Lexi Thompson at The Olympic Club, tying with Japan’s Nasa Hataoka on four-under par in regulation play. But it was Saso’s ten foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole that edged her past her Japanese rival, becoming just the second teenager to win a US Women’s Open title.
“I was actually a little upset,” Saso said of the start of her round where she double-bogeyed the second and third holes. “But my caddie talked to me and said, ‘Just keep on going; there’s many more holes to go.’ That’s what I did.”
Both players made pars at nine and 18 in the two-hole aggregate playoff, sending the tournament to sudden death back at the ninth hole. That set the stage for Saso to win it just up the road from Daly City, dubbed “Little Manila” for its large population of Filipinos. Many had turned out to watch their favourite in the heat of battle down the stretch.
“I don’t know what’s happening in the Philippines right now, but I’m just thankful that there’s so many people in the Philippines cheering for me,” she said. “I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone.”
Saso matched 2008 winner Inbee Park as the youngest U.S. Women’s Open champion at 19 years, 11 months, 17 days. But it’s not Park that she’s modelled her game on, rather McIlroy who sent Saso a message on Instagram prior to the final round encouraging the young swinger to go for broke on Sunday.
“I saw it this morning, and I was like, ‘Ohhh!'” she said. “I should have reposted it but I was so busy this morning, so I’ll do it later. I felt really happy.”
From joy to despair and Thompson, who had a five-stroke lead after the eighth hole before imploding, playing the final eight holes in five-over to limp over the line a shot back of the lead.
“I really didn’t feel like I hit any bad golf shots,” she maintained. “That’s what this golf course can do to you.”
Thompson was attempting to add to the ANA Inspiration title she won in 2014 but it was another disappointing final day at a Major for the American who was penalised four strokes during the final round of this very tournament in 2017 for misplacing her marked ball the previous day before losing in a playoff.
“It’s hard to smile, but it was an amazing week,” Thompson added.
High school junior Megha Ganne played in the final group but shot 77 and finished 3 over as the low amateur for the tournament.
“I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life,” Ganne said. “It’s everything I’ve wanted since I was little, so it’s just the best feeling.”
- Full scoring HERE
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