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Golf: Japan rejoices at teenage golfer Saso's US Women's Open win

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Teenage golfer Yuka Saso winning the U.S. Women's Open was met with jubilation from her Japanese supporters Monday, with her father crying tears of joy as he watched her hoist the trophy.

    "I always knew her power and mental fortitude would serve her well on the global stage," said Tatsuo Yamanaka, who oversees the golf team at Yoyogi High School in Tokyo where Saso graduated last year. "But I didn't think she would reach such great heights so soon."

    "She's given a boost to the current team as well as other graduates who are working toward their goal. I hope she avoids injuries and continues building up her resume," Yamanaka said.

    Born to a Filipino mother and Japanese father, Saso became only the third woman with Japanese citizenship to win a major title and tied the record for the youngest champion at the tournament at 19 years, 11 months, 17 days.

    She also holds Filipino citizenship and represents the Philippines, where she was born, on tour and in international competitions.

    Saso's father and coach Masakazu echoed the surprise at her meteoric rise, saying, "I didn't think she would win it this quickly. I'm so happy" as he looked on at San Francisco's Olympic Club after her victory.

    He admitted his confidence faltered when his daughter carded two double bogeys early in her final round, but his worry proved unfounded when she managed two par-5 birdies on the 16th and 17th holes to move into a playoff with Japanese player Nasa Hataoka.

    "After the double bogeys on the second and third holes, I thought she was done for. She was lucky."

    Asked how he plans to celebrate the victory with his daughter, Masakazu replied, "She's not the type to ask for things. That cup is what she wanted most."

    In Ichikawa in western Japan's Hyogo Prefecture, employees at Miuragiken Co., which manufactures the heads of Saso's irons, were ecstatic at her victory.

    "It's been less than a year since we met. I'm very surprised and overjoyed she has accomplished such a great feat," said Jiro Teramura, an executive at the small company.

    At the Fuso Country Club in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, about an hour and a half by car from central Tokyo, where Saso enrolled as a junior member in 2016, deputy manager Tatsuya Karibe said her physical strength is a boon when competing abroad.

    "Her physique is her strong point. She's a long hitter, which allows her to be competitive in the U.S. Women's Open."

    The government's top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, also offered his congratulations, saying the playoff holes were "a fierce battle" but that Saso's perseverance led to her win.

    Also praising Hataoka, Kato said he looks forward to the 22-year-old's future performances.

    Hiroaki Owa, who heads Ibaraki's athlete development program for golf and has worked closely with Hataoka, said she can hold her head high in defeat.

    "It's very rare to have a playoff (on the U.S. tour) between two Japanese. Hataoka may be dejected but this is good experience for the next time."

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