TOKYO—The country’s gold medal campaign shifts back to the Kasumigaseki Golf Club with Yuka Saso and Bianca Pagdanganan battling not only a star-studded field but also the scorching Japanese summer heat.
Pagdanganan tees off at 7:52 a.m. with Ireland’s Leona Maguire and Finland’s Matilda Castren while Saso will be with Canada’s Brooke Henderson and American Lexi Thompson, the same golfer she chased to win the US Women’s Open.
The 20-year-old Saso tees off in the first round with a replacement caddie after regular Lionel Matichuk was rushed to a hospital after suffering from heat stroke in a practice round on Tuesday.
National coach Miggy Alejandro will carry the bag for the world No. 8 Filipino-Japanese, at least for the first round.
Saso and Pagdanganan, gold medal winners at the Jakarta 2018 Asian Games, said the searing Japanese heat will pose a problem for most of the athletes.
“It’s very humid up here actually. It’s definitely a factor and you have to make sure you stay hydrated,” said Pagdanganan, the longest hitter on the Ladies Professional Golfers Association Tour.
Saso, on the other hand, said playing with Thompson will be a pleasure.
“I’m going to be playing against top players but I’ve been playing against great players in my past couple of tournaments so I’m going to enjoy it,” she said.
The wind could also be a factor as the Filipinas hope to duplicate Hidilyn Diaz’s weightlifting gold medal.
“You’re going to need to have control, especially with the putting,” Pagdanganan said.
The greens, both players said, are in good shape.
“The greens are really good so it’s going to be a good test of accuracy and patience,” Pagdanganan said.
According to the Associated Press, the nature of the women’s field is entirely different from the men last week, where all three medalists from Rio de Janeiro are back for their second Olympics.
There are 29 women in the field who competed in Rio, compared with nine men with the US and South Korea being the only countries with the maximum four players.
Thompson is the only returning American. She tied for 19th in Rio, while Inbee Park, the reigning gold medalist, and Sei Young Kim are back for South Korea.
Juvic Pagunsan represented the Philippines in the men’s contest where he finished in 55th place.