The making of a (major) champ

If mother knows best, what does a father know that he can teach his children? More so, help mold and whip them to become world champions?

Recent studies concluded that fathers who are actively involved in raising their children result in better verbal skills, intellectual functioning and academic achievement. They also do play a role in their girls’ self-esteem.

Masakazu Saso raised his level of standard in rearing and shaping daughter Yuka to become a consummate player and later a world-beater.

In fact, his training regimen and structure were so Spartan-like that he made her sign a “pledge” promising not to take it against him in the future.

“I will commit myself to rigorous training but I will not hate my parents for it. I will not dislike them. I will never forget to show a daughter’s smile,” the pledge read in a Japan Times article.

From then on, the younger Saso would rise by 5:30 a.m. to run, capping it with 10 sets of 50- and 100-meter sprints wearing two-kilogram weights and 30 minutes of repetitive side-step jumping before taking actual golf swings.

Next are the 30-kg barbell squats with the elder Saso, to add variety to her workouts, at times inserting a dry swing training for her daughter with a baseball bat while using ankle weights or shadow boxing.

All those hardships, pressure and stress, so rigorous and exacting a typical 13-year-old lass would be forced to submission, proved not much of a challenge for Saso, who stayed calm, disciplined and in control.

From then, she was already applying her current mantra of “trusting the process” — all for the singular mission of reaching to the top.

“I want to remember to have fun while I play. I want to rank No. 1 in the world,” she said then.

Barely a year-and-a-half in the pro ranks, the younger Saso, who will turn 20 on 20 June, has moved nine rungs away from achieving what had started out as a near-impossible dream (of becoming world No. 1) given the road one has to track to become the best of the best in a cutthroat competition.

This after she altered the women’s pro golf landscape by pulling off a major conquest in the US Women’s Open last Sunday, pouncing on Lexi Thompson’s backside meltdown and nipping Nasa Hataoka on the third playoff hole at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

While she credited her hard work and dedication, the support of her family, sponsors, friends and fans — not to mention Canadian caddie Lionel Matichuk’s calming presence — for her victory and rise to golfing fame, the 2018 Asian Games double gold medalist believes her success is driven by her father’s tough love.

“Golf was all I had,” said the Youth Olympic Games veteran in one interview.

Born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, Saso and family, including Filipina mom Fritzie, moved to Japan when she was four with Masakazu, himself a skilled golfer, exposing her to the sport that produced the likes of two-time LPGA Tour winner and five-time Philippine Ladies Open champion Jennifer Rosales.

“I couldn’t speak Japanese and I didn’t have any friends so my dad brought me to the driving range, to the golf course, that’s the only thing I did,” she said.

She watched countless golf videos and worked hard on her swing, notably aware of what she had wanted at a young age.

“When I was eight, I said to my dad, I want to be a professional golfer like Rory (McIlroy),” said the 2019 Girls Junior PGA Championship titlist, who had modelled her swing after the four-time major winner since, and had looked up to now-retired Japanese golf star Ai Miyazato for inspiration.

Mazakasu then relocated his family to the Philippines where the cost of living was a lot cheaper and the younger Saso would home-school, play golf from dawn to dusk daily and diligently work towards her dream.

“We are not rich. It was impossible for us to keep playing golf in Japan,” Masakazu, 63, said in an interview the father-daughter pair gave Kyodo News earlier this year.

They said the turning point in her golf career came when she was 13.

Vying in a tournament in the US, she saw a significant difference — around 50 yards — between the distances she was achieving with the golf ball and those of a 17-year-old player.

“It was frustrating. I told myself I would learn to swing as hard as her by the following year,” the elder Saso said, reflecting on a time that had made her cry out of anger.

Last Sunday, those tears would drop again but not out of frustration but out of indescribable joy after giving the Philippines its first major champion in golf and Japan its third major winner in women’s golf.

Saso, who barged from No. 40 to No. 9 in the Rolex world rankings following her major feat, holds dual Filipino and Japanese citizenship but represents the former on tour and in international competitions, including the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

“I was able to win because my family supported me and was always there for me,” said the younger Saso, who actually missed the final cut in LPGA’s Q-Series in late 2019 but earned an LPGA Tour of Japan card.

After playing two LPGA events in Australia as an invitee early in 2020, she got stuck in Japan by the pandemic but relished every minute of her stay with her family in Tokyo.

She would capture two JLPGA crowns, finish on top of the money rankings and No. 2 in the Player of the Year derby, feats that would net her invites to the top LPGA events, more particularly the majors.
Like her daughter, Masakazu was also moved to tears as Saso hoisted the huge Harton Semple trophy in the din of the US Open celebrations.

“I’m so happy. But I didn’t think she would win it this quickly,” Masakazu said.

But other than that, he did know what’s best for her.

Date: June 11, 2021 | By: Dante Navarro | Newspaper: Tribune | Source: