The spotlight was on a pair of teenagers following the final round of the 76th U.S. Women’s Open Championship on Sunday at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.
It was on Yuka Saso, 19, of the Philippines. Saso won the title as she birdied the third hole of a playoff to beat Nasa Hataoka of Japan on the Lake Course, one of the most storied venues in all of golf.
It was also on Megha Ganne, 17, of Holmdel, New Jersey. Ganne, who will be going into her senior year of high school, was the low amateur. It was the first major women’s championship at The Olympic Club, the site of so much U.S. Golf Association history over the years.
Saso becomes the first player from the Philippines to win the U.S. Women’s Open. She also joins Inbee Park, a seven-time major champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, as the youngest winner in the history of the U.S. Women’s Open.
“I’m so thankful for everyone who’s supporting me,” Saso said in a transcription provided by ASAP Sports at www.asapsports.com. “I don’t know what’s happening in the Philippines right now, but I’m just thankful that there are so many people in the Philippines cheering for me. I don’t know how to thank them. They gave me so much energy. I want to say thank you to everyone.”
Saso and Hataoka were tied at 4-under-par 280 after four rounds, 72 holes of regulation play, on the par-71, 6,486-yard layout, a very challenging set-up with narrow fairways, long rough, and small greens. Saso shot 73 and Hataoka shot 68 in the final round.
They each parred the first two playoff holes – the par-4, 384-yard ninth hole, and the par-4, 314-yard 18th hole. They went to No. 9 again, the third playoff hole, and Saso’s 10-foot birdie putt gave her the title.
As the champion, Saso not only earns a check for $1 million but also the Mickey Wright Medal and the Harton S. Semple Trophy. Additionally, she is exempt from qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open for the next 10 years, and also has exemptions for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, AIG Women’s British Open, ANA Inspiration, and Amundi Evian Championship over the next five years.
“I was just looking at all the great players in here. Yeah, I can’t believe my name is going to be here,” Saso said when asked about the trophy.
The field of 156 players, who began first-round play on Thursday, included 126 professionals and 30 amateurs. There were three days of practice rounds. The Olympic Club has hosted U.S. Open Championships in 1955, 1966, 1987, 1998, and 2012, as well as Tour Championships in 1993 and 1994, and the U.S. Amateur in 1958, 1981, and 2007.
“This golf course is in spectacular shape, and makes it even better to come back for your national championship to be at such a prestigious golf club,” said Paula Creamer, who received a special exemption by the USGA. “It really is a great test of golf. It challenges every part of your game, and that’s what you want in a championship.”
Saso opened by shooting 69, and followed with a 67 in the second round and a 71 in the third round.
Hataoka started off shooting 72, and then had a 69 in the second round and a 71 in the third round.
Lexi Thompson, the third-round leader, finished in third place, shooting 69-71-66-75 – 281.
Tying for fourth place was Megan Khang (68-70-74-70 – 282) and Shanshan Feng (69-70-72-71 – 282).
Angel Yin was sixth (68-79-67-70 – 284).
Finishing in a tie for seventh was Xiyu Lin (72-74-72-67 – 285), Jin Young Ko (70-74-72-69 – 285), Ariya Jutanugarn (71-70-74-70 – 285), Brooke Henderson (68-78-69-70 – 285), and Inbee Park (71-69-73-72 – 285).
Saso had the 36-hole lead. Thompson took a one-shot lead over Saso into the final round.
Thompson surged to as much as a five-shot lead through No. 8 in the final round. “I just wanted to come out today and play my game like I have the last few days, and no matter what happened, I knew if I just committed to my game plan and what I’ve been working on in my swing, I just want to see it keep on improving over time. Just got a few bad breaks, but that’s golf,” said Thompson.
“I really didn’t feel like I hit any bad golf shots. That’s what this golf course can do to you, and that’s what I’ve said all week.”
Thompson double-bogeyed the par-4, 415-yard 11th hole. She bogeyed the par-4, 412-yard 14th hole. She bogeyed the par-5, 441-yard 17th hole. She bogeyed the par-4, 314-yard 18th hole. “It was just an unbelievable feeling to be out here and play this golf course,” said Thompson.
“I’ve never been out here, so it was a blessing, and I’ll take today and I’ll learn from it and have a lot more weeks ahead, a lot more years. I have a tournament next week, so we’ll take it from here. “Of course, it’s hard to smile, but it was an amazing week. Yeah, I played not so good today with a few of the bogeys coming in on the back nine, but the fans were unbelievable, hearing the chants and just gives me a reason to play.”
Saso turned professional in 2019 and won two events on the LPGA Tour of Japan in 2020. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, she tied for sixth this year at the LOTTE Championship, an LPGA Tour event, in Hawaii. Saso reached the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2016. She was the medalist in stroke play qualifying at the U.S. Girls’ Junior in 2019.
Saso had back-to-back double bogeys early in her round on Sunday. They came on the par-4, 375-yard second hole, and the par-3, 191-yard third hole. She finished her round strong – with birdies on the par-5, 558-yard 16th hole, and the par-5, 441-yard 17th hole.
“For the first few holes I had two double bogeys, and I was actually a little upset,” said Saso. “But my caddie talked to me and said, just keep on going; there are many more holes to go. That’s what I did.”
Ganne played very well during the week, finishing tied for 14th, with rounds of 67, 71, 72, and 77 for a 287 total. “I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. It’s everything I’ve wanted since I was little, so it’s just the best feeling,” said Ganne, who attends Holmdel High School in New Jersey.
It was Ganne’s second appearance in a U.S. Women’s Open. Ganne, who has committed to Stanford, lost in the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2019. She has been with The First Tee of Metropolitan New York and has been a participant in the Drive, Chip & Putt, reaching the national finals four times.
She expressed her thanks and appreciation for the support that she received from the fans at Olympic Club during the week. “I can’t thank all these fans enough. They’ve made my week so much better than it could have been,” she said. “I just felt like there was so much love and so much support, and all of them are really excited to be out here, which is so great to see because I feel like in a small way I’m making an impact on the game, which is really cool.”
*Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor, and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.