Yuka, ‘New Godzilla,’ still has sights at winning tournaments more than anything
In an obscure online golf forum manned by fans from South Korea, a country which has produced a significant share of world-class, female par-crushers, Yuka Saso has earned herself a nickname.
“New Godzilla,” commenters, some of whom don’t know Saso’s name, wrote as captions to photos featuring the 19-year-old Japan LPGA tour rookie.
It’s unlikely for the moniker to catch on, but three events into her Japan invasion, Saso has indeed been a monster. She has cashed in at a record pace, breaching the 50-million yen mark faster than anyone after ruling the 2020 Nitori Ladies golf tournament in Hokkaido over the weekend.
But that’s not the record Saso is after.
“I just want to keep playing and try to get better every time I join a tournament,” Saso told the Inquirer late Sunday after closing out the tournament with a gutsy one-under-par 71 and a four-day total of 275, beating by two shots local bet Sakura Koiwai.
It’s not the first time Saso has overlooked the money aspect of her career to focus on the improvement of her craft. In 2018, she won two golds in the Asian Games and was eligible for a cash windfall for the feat. But in a bid to preserve her amateur status, she decided to forego the bonus.
Now that she’s a pro, Saso puts money in the back seat again, focusing on her craft. And in her two wins that propelled her to the top of the Mercedes cash rankings, she flaunted both her physical and mental expertise.
She clinched the Nitori Ladies crown on the 175-yard, par-3 No. 12 with a chip that hit the pin and dunked into the cup for a two-shot lead.
“I practice that shot all the time,” Saso said in an interview with the official website of the Japan LPGA Tour.
She also learned her lesson. The 12th hole was one of three straight chances that Saso failed to take advantage of in the third round, when she misread the green twice and overcorrected breaks. It started on 11 when she missed a pin-length putt and on the 12th, she needed to knock in a nervy short putt before letting out an audible sigh. She charged at the 13th and overshot the green, stranding herself in the bunker. She managed to blast to within a birdie chance but nicked the edge of the cup with her putt.
Those three pars were what opened the door for Koiwai. Saso was four-up on her closest pursuers before that stretch and could have easily gone seven-up. Instead, Koiwai made an amazing back nine charge to move within a stroke of the lead heading into the final round.
It was fitting, then, that it was on the 12th that Saso melted Koiwai’s will, her stubborn rival, in that nervy final round showdown to capture the 36-million yen (about P16.5 million) top prize.
Fortune may have played a role on that pivotal 12th. The path to that hole, however, was all a product of her roaring purpose.
On the chilliest day of the tournament whose start was marred by a two-hour rain delay, Saso opened her bid with a splash—though not the kind she hoped. She plunked her approach into water on the 355-yard par four second hole. She wound up with a double bogey with Koiwai submitting par to seize a one-stroke lead.
Saso prodded herself: “Let’s do our best in the next hole.”
It was a you-or-me showdown with Koiwai from thereon.
After Koiwai made room on top with a bogey, Saso took the lead—for good—on the 535-yard No. 6 with a laser-like approach that set up a birdie. She matched Koiwai shot-for-shot until the crucial 12th hole.
“I didn’t even know my score,” Saso said. “I was fighting for the championship. I [was thinking of] what kind of score I want to achieve, rather than being aware of the opponent.”
By the 16th, there was no opponent to be aware of. Koiwai dropped a shot there to fall behind by three and it was all over.
Apart from Koiwai, no one was within nine shots of Saso, who—like her online moniker—is ready to wreak more havoc in Japan. INQ
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