Yuka Saso makes bitter ‘business decision’ to change citizenship
The National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP) knew it was coming, though it had hoped against hope that Yuka Saso would decide to stay as a Filipino.
She didn’t, and the NGAP’s hardworking secretary general, Bones Floro, who was attending the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation meeting in Dubai on Wednesday, got confirmation in the weirdest way possible.
“She asked me: How do you feel that Yuka has elected Japanese citizenship?” Floro quoted female Japan Golf Association official Nobuko Hirayama as asking him during one point in the meeting. “I have mixed feelings about this. I’m sad she’s leaving you, but happy that she is joining us.”
Saso left the NGAP and the entire country disheartened, but Floro said his agency knew that it was coming—for obvious reasons—and that they will continue to treat Saso as family after she had given the country great honors with a first Asiad individual golf gold in 2018 in Jakarta before becoming the first Filipino to win a major in the US Women’s Open.
“We all knew it was coming, even before Tokyo,” Floro told the Inquirer over the phone. “Because of the Japanese laws that say she had to choose before she turns 22. It was a business decision made by Yuka and her family. She was made to make a very difficult decision.”
“I’m not thinking deeply about when to switch to Japan. I had the idea of choosing Japanese nationality. Whichever you choose, you’re Japanese or Filipino. It’s always in your heart,” Saso said in the alba.co.jp report which was in Japanese.
Business in golf talk doesn’t really mean money right away, but money in the long haul as Japan has a multitude of corporations giving away sponsorships to its players with golf being a national pastime in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Here, only Ricky Razon’s ICTSI and Manny Pangilinan’s PLDT Group have consistently supported the sport as the Philippines remains to be a basketball-crazed country.
Floro acknowledged that one very supportive patron, and the NGAP through president Martin Lorenzo, also tried to convince Yuka to stay.
‘Power of passport’
“Another reason is the power of their (Japanese) passport, because she can travel the world for her tournaments without the need for visas,” Floro went on.
“We are obviously saddened to see her go, but she will always be Japanese and Filipino to us. We hope that our countrymen understand and respect her decision. We don’t fault her for her business decision,” Floro added
Saso, born in Bulacan to a Filipino mother, has more than a year to keep representing the Philippines as she returns to the Japan Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) in the $2 million TOTO Classic this week, and in her future US LPGA events—where she gained a five-year exemption for her US Women’s Open win.
Saso came to the last Olympics as one of the Philippines’ bright bets to end a 97-year-old search for a first Games gold. She got untracked in the first round when a Japanese reporter asked her why she was playing for the Philippines even if her father is Japanese and that their family has a home in Tokyo.
The Philippines will be represented by someone else in women’s golf in the next Olympics in Paris, and it will be up to Bianca Pagdanganan and the other upcoming talents to carry the fight.
“It’s sad that we lost her in terms of representation,” Floro continued. “But Yuka will always have a special place in our hearts as a Filipino and we are happy for her.”