Phlilippines golf trio legit podium contenders

Olmin Leyba (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Golf officials are extra excited for the coming Olympics with reigning US Women’s Open champion Yuka Saso leading a crack three-member team with a legit shot at glory.

Saso, now ranked No. 8 in the world, sets out to carry over her strong US Women’s Open performance to the Tokyo Games, where she joins Bianca Pagdanganan and Juvic Pagunsan in hunting for gold on the fairways and greens.

“All three of our athletes have realistic chances of podium finishes, even gold,” National Golf Association of the Philippines secretary general Bones Floro said of the star-studded qualifiers.

“They’ve proven it, they have the heart, they are determined, they have an amazing work ethic and they’re disciplined. And their confidence level is at a peak now,” he added.

The ICTSI-backed Saso will enter the Olympiad as holder of a major championship.

“One of the big benefits from her historic win in the US Women’s Open is that now, she knows she can beat all these people (top lady golfers in the world),” said Floro of the 19-year-old star, the first Filipino to win a golf major.

Saso is scheduled to play the next major, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, on June 24-27 in Georgia. Then she returns to her regular base in Japan for the circuit’s stops in Ibaraki, Hokkaido, and Kato in July before embarking on the big mission in Tokyo.

“The Olympics is in August but there are still many tournaments before it. When it’s the Olympics, it’s game time,” said Saso.

“But it’s game time every week and I don’t want to rush. I just want to take it week by week, play golf and enjoy all the tournaments I can join,” she added.

LPGA campaigner Pagdanganan seeks to medal for the Philippines anew after delivering a gold (with Saso and Lois Kaye Go) and a bronze (individual) in the 2018 Asian Games.

Pagunsan, for his part, hopes to sustain the momentum from his triumph in the recent Mizuno Open in the Japan Tour.

Floro believes the hot Japanese weather during the July 29-Aug. 7 Olympiad at Kasumigaseki Country Club should be favorable to Saso and Co.

“Yuka and Juvic play in the Japan Tour so obviously, they’ll be more comfortable,” said Floro. “Bianca may be playing in the US but we’ve brought her to tournaments in Japan before so there should be some sort of comfort and relaxed play.”

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