Saso says it all

YOU are down four strokes in golf with one round left, anytime, that’s huge.

But if you happen to be a fighter, a real fighter, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.  It can be overhauled using a right frame of mind.

I think that was what Yuka Saso’s 15th club that she had stuffed into her golf bag when she teed off for the final 18 holes in the Jakarta Asiad on Sunday:  A mind-set geared toward victory.

That “15th club” was invisible, of course.  Rules only allow 14 clubs per player in every round.

Saso’s win was a classic for the sheer drama that went with it.

Her mighty rally somewhat derailed with a double bogey on the par-3 17th, Saso suddenly found herself two strokes behind leader Liu Wenbo of China going to the 18th and final hole.

One with a faint heart would have sulked.  Balked.  Collapsed totally.

Not Saso.

Summoning her entire strength and skill, she eagled the par-5 18th, planting a 4-iron from 210 yards into the fringe and next banging home an 18-footer at Jakarta’s Pondok Indah Golf Club in capping an impeccable, unbelievable gold-winning six-under-par 66.

That was seven shots clear of Liu’s 73, a gristly finish that was too severely uglified by a trek from purgatory to hell on her 72nd hole.

Finding the fairway trap with her drive on the 18th, Liu employed a quick-fix by trying to get as close to the green as possible.  But she mishit everything, dumping her  second shot into the wide lagoon left of the fairway.

Terribly disoriented by now, she would next find herself lying six on the fringe, completing her trip to hell by three-putting from there for a fat 9.  It cost her both the individual gold and the team gold won by Saso and the Philippine squad of Bianca Pagdanganan, LK Go and Saso.

Pagdanganan also delivered a round to remember—a similar 66—as the trio completed an improbable comeback from nine shots down to pocket the first-ever women’s team gold since the Asiad’s birth in 1951.

“This is the biggest thing that ever happened to me,” said Pagdanganan, whose 66  salvaged her a bronze.  “This is far different because we are playing for the country.  Nothing can top what I am feeling right now.”

“We are all fighters here, and we all fought hard out there for the country,” said Saso, only 17 but already endowed with the mind-set of a grizzled veteran, whose victory was the first Asiad gold in golf since Ramon Brobio won the men’s gold in 1986.

The first time I saw Saso play at the Manila Golf Club—I had the happy occasion to shake hands with her upon the intercession of George Blaylock—I knew immediately she was headed for the big league, if not the big time.

Blaylock, a silent backer of Saso’s, vibered me the following when she learned of her victory:  “Yuka is going to be a great golfer and a great Filipina.  Let’s hope that she continues to grow in character and form that is worthy of being a true champion.”

After vibering Yuka my felicitations, she replied:  “Thank you po sa pag-cheer ninyo sa amin.  Hope to see you again, po.”

Do you not discern a budding star brimming with humility in that message?

She’ll go places, I believe.

THAT’S IT  We lost to South Korea, yes, but nothing to be ashamed of.  Chin up, please? They went to battle not fully prepared and you expect them to win? They had fought well—but their best was simply not enough. Miracles rarely happen nowadays, what with basketball now being a science. The Koreans have prepared hard for this Asiad and that’s not a surprise. They are the defending champions. We could have had the chance to challenge them, seriously, but what did we do? We readied ourselves instead to rumble with the Australians and what happened to us next? We lost 10 players to Fiba suspensions, including two of our coaches. We tried to save face and, responding to a public outcry, we built a team hastily. It was good enough that it nearly upset China in an 82-80 defeat. The Koreans got us scouted in that game and went on to defeat us 91-82, giving us illusions of grandeur in the first two quarters before sending us back to earth with a big thud in the homestretch. Yes, it was fun while it lasted as we love to say. Petmalu!

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