SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

Independence is about raising the flag. To affirm that we are free and proud and are patriots. Red, white and blue; yellow sun and stars. The flag isn’t just a piece of cloth. It is a call to action, a tribute to who we were and an emblem of what we can be. The principle of self-determination recognizes that only we get to decide.

After 1898, World War II, our 1946 recognition under Tydings-McDuffie, the end of Parity and Laurel-Langley in 1974, EDSA 1986, the 1991 US Bases rejection by the Senate, our most monumental and world scale flag raise has been the victory over China at The Hague, 2016.

This week, in an equally ground breaking manner and in a sphere no less global, Ms. Yuka Saso hoisted the Philippine flag to unprecedented heights. Just 19 (!?), Yuka conquered the US Open at the storied Olympic Club in San Francisco. This is only the most prestigious major tournament in the world. It has a long and storied history, is played on the toughest courses, against the strongest field and for the largest purse (first prize of $1 million) in all of women’s golf.

Wednesday’s editorial spoke of her glory as “a breath of fresh air.” It’s not just that she won but it’s how she won. From being on top, to losing the lead, dropping far behind, then fighting and clawing her way back to victory.

The discipline necessary to sustain championship form under such circumstances is colossal. Saso’s win was a call to action. We, too, can do better against COVID-19. From among the top performers in the region, we are now at bottom. But, as the young lady from San Ildefonso and Tokyo has shown us, comebacks can happen for as long as we keep our heads about us.

No one realistically expected that a golfer from our developing shores could dominate. Compatriots Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin were multiple winners on the LPGA a generation ago. But their success was sporadic. Yuka Saso in one fell swoop has changed the paradigm. And the country is fortunate to perch on her shoulders for the ride.

Her on course exploits are spectacular. First, it’s not a fluke. She almost topped the order of merit in her rookie year in Japan this past 2020. She has prodigious distance off the tee, cerebral course management, sound fundamentals and a clutch short game (as witnessed down the stretch at the Olympic). And we’ve seen her maturity in this last win.

She’s now No. 9 in the world. This is phenomenal given that, on average, you need around 50 events to get to the top 10. She has only been in 33 events. Per her own trajectory, her dream of becoming No. 1 was doable by age 24. At this pace, 24 seems like a conservative target.

And the world’s gonna know your name. Yuka’s breakthrough is auspicious in so many ways. We could not have found a better face for the country and role model for the next generation.

It is the best fusion of Filipino and Japanese culture. US sporting media were flummoxed seeing Yuka rue rather than applaud her play-off opponent Nasa Hataoka’s missed putt. The cutthroat press had never seen a contender cheer the enemy at this level of competition.

Her refreshing humility was evident throughout. You see it when she responds to interviews (vs. the overly proud westerners). I marveled at one indicative scene. Before commencing their playoff duel, the protagonists met on the 9th tee. As she approached Hataoka, Yuka paused and offered a deep bow from the waist as a sign of respect. Hataoka was ranked higher and already in the US LPGA top echelon. Also, she was older. The gesture from the upstart was not reciprocated. It was clear from this exchange that Yuka was already the better person.

Yuka makes herself available for photo sessions with the caddies and in-house personnel at the golf clubs she plays at. She displayed the same down to earth camaraderie at the Olympic. Post-match, she spent time with the several proud Filipinos of the club’s kitchen staff. The renowned empathy was also expressed in thanking the Pinoys that encouraged her from the gallery. She acknowledged how much the tickets must have set them back.

Yuka’s Fil-Japanese citizenship has also been fodder. Japan has the strictest citizenship laws. Together with the Koreas, per a Harvard Study, Japan tops the list of the most homogenous countries. For citizens of mixed nationality or Hafu, Japan law expects them to renounce their second citizenship by their 22nd birthday. Her compatriot on the tennis majors draw, the celebrated Naomi Osaka, has already announced her relinquishment of her US citizenship.

Yuka’s father was heard to confirm that she will be staying Japanese. This decision makes total sense, given the favorable taxation regime as well as the potential earnings from major Japanese sponsors which should increase exponentially if she were a full citizen. The possibilities for her are endless.

Naturally, there are some who are enviously beginning to peddle the negative narrative. Even the angle of Yuka’s exacting training regimen in her youth has been dug up, as if to diminish her story of triumph. The same treatment was given Thailand’s Jutanugarn sisters who also reached the top of the women’s golfing world. The issue was the overbearing preparation overseen by their father. Of course, of the “Tiger” dad stories, the ultimate is that of Tiger Woods himself.

It wasn’t that way with Yuka and her dad. She is a happy champion focused only on the tournaments ahead. She is excited for the Olympics. Hands down, she is our best ever chance for a gold medal. At the 2016 Olympics, golfing gold went to Inbee Park of South Korea and the silver to Lydia Ko of New Zealand. Both have been World No. 1s. Shanshan Feng of China won bronze. All three golfers were trashed by Yuka at the US Open.

At this pace, her mother Fritzie may yet be the next Tida. Respect.


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