Losing Saso, too

Lito A. Tacujan - The Philippine Star
Losing Saso, too
Yuka Saso
STAR / File


MANILA, Philippines — Impoverished as it is with a shortage of Filipino aces with talent and guts to be world’s best, the nation suffered yet another setback.

It lost women’s golf icon US Open winner Yuka Saso to Japan on a citizenship issue early in the week.

The impact of Saso’s win was not unlike the ring exploits of world champion Manny Pacquiao, the brilliant games of chess prodigy Wesley So, the courage of Olympic champ Hidilyn Diaz and the world class routine of gymnast Carlos Yulo.

A great year for Philippine sports suffered a hiccup toward the end.

Although she had two years to mull over the case, Saso, 20, a Fil-Japanese has heeded the advice of her father to become a Japanese national, looming as a rising star in JPGA.

She insisted that she would be ‘’a Filipino in my heart, ‘’ and her decision drew support from backers and fans of the royal game but rankled in the heart of many, too.

There’s that question of a career built around a solid foundation provided by the efficient local junior golf program and generous support of sponsors that led, among others, to two Asian Games gold medals and reaching the pinnacle of success with the US Open triumph.

There were stirring scenes in the broadcast of the final day of the Open in the Olympic Club in San Francisco with a cluster of Filipinos and Fil-Ams waving the national flag at the gallery and a Philippine marker lording it over the elite international cast in the giant scoreboard

‘’Makes one proud as a Pinoy,” said one of the fans.

It could match in depth and magnitude Pacman’s greatest feats, Diaz’ Olympic breakthrough and Yulo’s rebound from his Tokyo Games disaster with a gold medal in the world event.

But it’s dampened by a shift in Japan’s citizenship rule Saso had to comply with.

And it brought to mind the case of another Filipino who proved to be a world beater in So, the super grandmaster and first Fischer Random Chess titlist in 2019.

So left the country for the United States in 2014 and pledged allegiance to the US federation, disappointed with the politics that had beset local sports that time.

He was unhappy, among others, with the system of selection for the national team, disrupting his schedule of tournaments to lead the team in international meets like the SEA Games.

The chess whiz kid finally gave up when he was denied a monetary incentive for winning the gold in the 2013 World Universiade Games in Kazan, Russia.

He went on to represent the US team playing Board 3 in the Chess Olympiad and at one time ranked No. 2 in the world.

With So and Saso gone coupled with Pacquiao’s retirement, the Philippine sports sizzling start seemed to fizzle out at year’s end.

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