FEELING a bit anxious, Filipino-Japanese Olympic hopeful Yuka Saso resumes her campaign in the rich Japanese LPGA Tour when she tees off in the season-opening 34th Daikin Orchid Ladies Golf Tournament today at the Ryukyu Golf Club in Okinawa, Japan.
“It’s been a long time since I played. I’m worried. I’m worried if I can play as I used to.
Can I still hit the ball and putt as I used to? Because I wasn’t playing, my anxiety was more than I expected,” Saso said last Tuesday in an interview posted on the JPLGA website following a three-month layoff.
Saso, who won two legs on the Japanese tour in 2020 and emerged as the circuit’s top money earner with winnings of 93.8 million yen (roughly P54.5 million), last saw action in November, finishing in a tie for sixth place in the JLPGA Tour Championship in Miyazaki.
To drive away the jitters, Saso said she came three hours ahead of her scheduled practice round last Tuesday at the par-72, 6,561-yard course located southwest of the Japanese capital of Tokyo, home to the biggest US military base in the Pacific region.
“The best way to get rid of anxiety is to practice. At the driving range, we were focused than ever. I hit a lot,” Saso, 19, who anchored the women’s national squad to a sweep of the team and individual gold medals in the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, said.
She said she was dissatisfied by her practice round, noting that “the feeling of the turf was different between the practice area and the course. It didn’t go well so I need more practice.”
Saso said her experience in playing various courses all over the world as a former national amateur standout would serve her well in adjusting to the playing conditions of the layout, which is about 38 kilometers south of the Kadena military base on the island.
“It was very windy today. It was difficult to deal with. But as a professional, you are supposed to overcome these situations,” she stressed.
Setting her concerns aside, Saso said she is looking forward to making her debut in the tournament won in 2019 by Japanese Mamiko Higa. It was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am happy to play in this event and it should be a lot of fun. Although I might be slightly anxious, I’ll do my best,” Saso said, exuding quiet confidence.
Saso is one of two Filipino Olympic aspirants in golf, the other being former national teammate Bianca Pagdanganan, who is competing in her second year in the US LPGA tour.
Both golfers are currently ranked 22nd and 42nd, respectively, in the International Golf Federation Olympic qualifying women’s rankings, with the top 60 players at the end of the cut-off on June 28 in the women’s division eligible for the Tokyo Olympic Games in July.
The top 15 in the rankings will formally qualify for Tokyo as long as there are no more than four golfers from one country in the list while the remaining slots will be allotted accordingly, with a maximum of two athletes per country.