Yuka Saso Sets the Record Straight: 'I'll Be Forever Filipino'

A passport doesn't change her heritage.

Only 20 years old, Yuka Saso is a once-in-a-generation type of athlete. The Filipino-Japanese golfer was only 17 when she first made headlines for becoming the first Filipino to win a gold in the women’s individual and team events at the 2018 Asian Games. And at only 19, shortly after she turned professional, she became the first Filipino to win a U.S. Women’s Open and tied with legendary golfer Inbee Park as the youngest golfer to ever win a tournament. 

These historic, record-breaking moments were made when Saso played under the Philippine flag. The athlete has already provided the Philippine sports community with plenty of milestones in such a short amount of time—a parting gift of sorts as the golfer is now, officially, representing Japan in all future sporting events. 

Yuka Saso is one of the few athletes who was faced with a citizenship issue: to choose one nationality over the other due to laws that forbid dual citizenship in Japan. Saso, like American-Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, formally chose her Japanese citizenship in late 2021 as per the country’s nationality law. The law states that those who were born dual citizens must renounce the other citizenship before they turn 22 years old. With the Japanese passport being the most powerful passport in the world, Saso was compelled to opt for her Japanese citizenship for the sake of her jet-setting career. It was a blow to sports fans everywhere when her announcement first came out, but Saso is firm and protective about her heritage. 

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In a one-on-one interview with Esquire, Saso set the record straight, “I'm super proud being half [Filipino and Japanese].” 

“I’ll forever be Filipino and Japanese,” she reiterated in a press conference at Solaire after returning to the Philippines for the first time in two years due to the pandemic. 

With two nations backing her career, Saso affirms that her citizenship on paper hasn’t affected how she feels about her cultures. “It doesn’t mean I’m not a Filipino anymore,” said Saso, who speaks Tagalog, Japanese, and English. 

Saso will no longer be allowed to represent the Philippines in official sporting events like the Olympics or the LPGA Tour, but that won’t stop her from visiting the country or working to make her mother’s land proud.  

Since the beginning of her career, Saso has been supported by Philippine listed company International Container Terminal Services Inc., which is owned by golfing enthusiast and Forbes lister Enrique Razon Jr. The partnership looks to be a long-term relationship even as Saso’s career branches out internationally. The Filipino-Japanese golfer is now a part of the AXA Asia and Africa family.

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Ranked seventh in the world by Rolex’s Women’s World Golf Rankings and by the Race to CME Globe rankings, Saso is currently the highest-ranking golfer representing Japan and the youngest golfer in the top 10. With so much success and potential at such a young age, you’d assume that Saso is a master of control and staying cool under pressure. You’d be right. 

The athlete is known for her unflappable nature, straightforward manner, and polite demeanor. Fitting for a sport like golf. You’d be hard-pressed to find something that would rattle the athlete as Saso lives by a philosophy of mind over matter. 

“I think pressure is something you can control. Either you accept the pressure or not. I don’t get pressured,” declared Saso. 

On her off time, the young golfer is still a 20-something Gen-Z. She watches Netflix, listens to Spotify, and catches up with friends, but what sets her apart is her single-minded focus on achieving her goals. The most prominent being getting as close as she can to the coveted number one spot in the golfing world. 

Up next for Saso are two LPGA events in Southeast Asia this March: the $1.7 million HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore and the $1.6 million Honda LPGA tournament in Thailand.

At only 20, Saso has all the time in the world to reach her goal. And she’s guided by a mantra: “Trust the process.” In her brief but bright career, it hasn’t failed her yet. 

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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