Yuka Saso AFP PHOTO FILE
(UPDATE) HONG KONG: When a little-known teenager from the Philippines burst into the spotlight of world golf by winning the US Women’s Open last year, it changed her life, but left some tough decisions ahead of her.
Yuka Saso will enjoy the new experience of defending a major next week. But at Pine Needles, she will be playing under another flag, the crimson red circle of Japan.
Saso, who was born in the Philippines and has a Filipina mother and a Japanese father, has been distressed by the “very difficult” decision to switch allegiance to her father’s land.
Japan does not allow adults to hold dual citizenship, leaving Saso with a heartbreaking choice to make before he turns 21 next month.
“I grew up in the Philippines and played big events with the Filipino flag next to my name, so it was a big decision,” she told AFP.
“It was very difficult…I’m a professional golfer. I needed to make a decision that was good for my job.”
The scales have been tipped by the Japanese passport making it easier to travel in a post-pandemic world.
“I think everyone knows the Japanese passport is more powerful, it takes less work with things outside of golf,” Saso said via video call from the United States.
The Philippines will always hold a special place in Saso’s heart – she won two gold medals for the country at the 2018 Asian Games and played for them again at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
“I felt very honored to represent my mother’s country, these great events… all these memories,” Saso said.
“I hope people won’t think that I gave up on the Philippines, because I love the Philippines. I also love Japan.
“It’s still the same me, it’s just the flag.”
Twelve months ago, Saso arrived in San Francisco as a little-known golfer who had won a few events on the Japan LPGA Tour.
By the time she left the Olympic Club, after only her seventh start on the LPGA Tour, Saso had become the first female or male golfer from the Philippines to win a major tournament.
“Being able to win the US Open was awesome and getting an LPGA card was my dream,” she said.
“It changed my life and since then I have learned a lot inside and outside the golf course.”