Congratulations to Yuka Saso, the new US Women’s Open champion. She becomes only the second teenager to win the US Open, equalling the record Inbee Park set in 2008 exactly: 19 years, 11 months and 17 days. Commiserations to Nasa Hataoka, who pushed her all the way to a sudden-death play-off; also to Lexi Thompson, her back-nine collapse earning her a place in Olympic Club infamy alongside Arnold Palmer, who lost a seven-stroke lead on the back nine to Billy Casper in the 1966 men’s version. Hey, there’s worse company to find yourself in. Thanks for reading this hole-by-hole report. Nighty night!
-4: Saso, Hataoka (Saso won play-off at first sudden-death hole)
-2: Khang, Feng
+1: Lin, Ko, A Jutanugarn, Henderson, Park
+2: Olson, Lee6
+3: Herbin, Ganne (a)
+4: Lee, Kim, Li, Stark (a)
Megha Ganne is awarded her silver medal for low amateur, then Yuka Saso is given her Mickey Wright Medal. Finally she lifts the US Open trophy, deserved reward for a sensational victory. “My dream was to be world number one and win the US Open, but I wasn’t thinking I would hold this trophy this week. I am really happy. I knew there were par fives on the last few holes and maybe I could get my chance. After 18, I felt my stomach a little … it hurts … I don’t know why! But I ate banana and it feels better now. This means a lot.” Then a mention for Rory McIlroy, who she has modelled her swing on. “Rory mentioned me on Instagram, saying get that trophy, so I did. Thank you Rory!” Just a lovely speech from golf’s newest superstar!
Yuka Saso’s victory this week will go down as a huge surprise, though perhaps it shouldn’t: she did tie for 13th last year, after all. The manner in which she bounced back from that dismal start – double bogey at 2, double bogey at 3 – was a demonstration of top-drawer sporting moxie. Her approaches at 16 and 17 put matchplay-style pressure on Lexi Thompson, who couldn’t cope. Just a 73 on the final day, and yet it’s a performance and a victory for the ages.
Saso becomes only the second teenager to win the US Open. The first: Inbee Park, who was exactly the same age, 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, when she triumphed in 2008! That is very strange; sometimes the planets just align.
After being warmly congratulated by the gracious Nasa Hataoka, then drenched in champagne, an understandably emotional Yuka Saso, the 2021 US Open champion, talks to NBC. How did she bounce back from that awful start? “I was upset and my caddy talked to me. He said there are still many holes to go, so keep what I was doing the last few days and trust the process. I was just glad and thankful that I was here and able to play in this tournament. It is unbelievable! I’d like to thank my family. I wouldn’t be here without them … [some inevitable tears] … I’m sorry … to all my sponsors who helped me I am thankful … to all my friends I am really thankful … I hope I can do more and keep this going.”
Yuka Saso is the 2021 US Open champion!
A perfectly judged right-to-left birdie putt drops, and the young Filipino wins her first major at the age of 19! Who would have thought this could happen when she double-bogeyed 2 and 3?!
Hataoka rolls up to three feet. A short uphill one left for par. But will she get to make it? For the third time, Saso has a putt to win the US Open!
Saso has made some outrageous escapes from the rough this week, and this might be her best! Her wedge cuts crisply through the cabbage, her ball biting eight feet from the pin! She’ll have a great look at birdie, and the pressure is really on Hataoka now, because her sand wedge from the centre of the fairway is weak, only just landing on the front of the green and spinning back a little. She’ll be left with a 30-footer. She needs something special.
Hataoka still with the honour. She creams her drive down the middle of the fairway, about 100 yards from the hole. Saso’s drive however leaks off to the left, takes a hard bounce, and disappears into the filth. Advantage Hataoka with the roles reversed.
Yep! She hits a supremely confident par saver into the heart of the cup, and we’re going to sudden death. Back to 9 with the pair of you.
Saso goes for it … and seriously overcooks it! To astonished gasps, she sends a fast one six feet past, the ball always staying on the high side. Can she knock in the return and take us back to the 9th?
Hataoka strides around, in preparation for the biggest putt of her life. Eventually, all decisions made, she sends a well-paced putt to kick-in distance. It was never going to drop, mind, always staying up on the right. Another par, and for the second time today, Saso will have a putt for the US Open title!
Saso next. She sends hers over the flag. The ball bites and threatens to spin back, but stops pretty much dead and she’ll have a look from 20 feet. Let the putting shootout commence.
Hataoka to play first. She’s 103 yards out, in thick rough, halfway up the bank on the left. She does extremely well to smash her wedge onto the fringe at the front. The ball breaks to the right but just about holds the fringe. She’s pin high, and will be pleased with that outcome. She’s left with a 30-footer.
Hataoka’s tee-box radar has gone on the blink at exactly the wrong time. She hooks her hybrid into the thick stuff down the left of the second play-off hole, the 18th. Saso splits the fairway. Advantage Saso once again.
Saso up first. Her putt is always missing on the high side. She’ll have a three-foot tickler coming back. Hataoka then rolls her birdie effort straight at the cup … but it stops a dimple short. She taps in for par, but only after asking whether this is a match-play style situation. It’s not. Saso cleans up, and we’re effectively sudden death now. Meanwhile NBC inform us that Lexi Thompson has declined the kind offer of an interview, which is hardly surprising given her back-nine collapse.
Hataoka’s lie isn’t too awful, all things considering. After some deliberation, she bumps a glorious wedge into the front of the green, her ball working right to left, ending pin high. She’ll have an uphill look at birdie from 15 feet! Saso, from the short stuff, comes up 20 feet short. Ah the ebb and flow.
NBC have a quick word with the low amateur, the extremely cheerful Megha Ganne. “No disappointment at all. I had a ton of fun, and expect to see me back here! I’m going back to school tomorrow. My friends and sister will definitely snap me back into reality.”
Here we go, then. Hataoka has the honour, and hooks her drive into the cabbage down the left. Instant advantage to Saso, who turns the screw by whistling her drive down the right-hand side of the fairway. That’s gone one hell of a way.
The play-off, then. It’s a two-hole aggregate affair, the players playing the 9th then the 18th. If they still can’t be separated, it goes to sudden death, alternating between 9 and 18.
Golf, eh? Bloody hell! Anyway, we’re guaranteed a new major champion. Nasa Hataoka, 22 from Japan, has been threatening to make the breakthrough for a while, having tied for second at the 2018 PGA and third at the same event last year. She’s also got top-ten finishes at the ANA (2020) and the US Open (2018 at Shoal Creek) already on her CV. By comparison, Yuka Saso tied for 13th at last year’s US Open, and that’s it … though the Filipino is only 19. Or, to be exact, 19 years, 11 months and 17 days, exactly the same age Inbee Park was when she won in 2008. Park is the only teenage winner of the US Open as things stand. Is a little bit of history about to be rewritten?
Saso makes her par putt for a 73. That’s one hell of a salvage job, and she’s in a play-off with Hataoka! Meanwhile poor Thompson taps in for bogey. A 75 as uncertain as yesterday’s 66 was majestic. She shipped a five-shot lead, and while that’s not up there with Arnold Palmer’s antics here in 1966, when he lost a seven-stroke lead on the back nine to Billy Casper in the men’s version, this is going to be a tough one to process. Back in 41 with a bogey-bogey finish. Palmer never won another major after his debacle; let’s hope the same fate doesn’t befall the popular Thompson, who smiles graciously as she congratulates Saso and Ganne, who both exit the green beaming, one as low amateur, the other heading into a play-off!
-4: Hataoka (F), Saso (F)
-3: Thompson (F)
-2: Khang (F), Feng (F)
Thompson, for the par and a place in a playoff. She prods timidly at the putt, and it’s never, ever, ever reaching the hole. She laughs out loud at her mistake, but this is going to be a difficult one to get over. More on that anon, but first, Megha Ganne rattles in a par saver for a 77. Huge cheers as she’s the low amateur!
Saso prowls, though she doesn’t take too long. A putt for the US Open. She sends the ball rolling serenely towards the cup … it’s going in … no it’s not. It turns to the right and she’s left with, under the circumstances, an extremely testing four footer coming back up to make a play-off!
Thompson has a decent lie in the bunker. This has to go close. What if she Bob Tways it for the win? Nope. She’ll need to make a 15-footer coming back if she’s to make a play-off … while now Saso, whose jig looked up after those double bogeys at 2 and 3, has a putt for the title!
Thompson first, from 109 yards … and yet again she comes up short, her 9-iron dunking into the bunker at the front. The door’s ajar for Saso, who from 98 yards, lands on the dancefloor. The ball spins back, shades of Sandy at Augusta in 1988, though not quite so close. She’ll have a look at birdie from 15 feet.
Jeonguen Lee6 also pars, signing for a very disappointing final round of 76. She’s +2. Ah well, she’ll always have Charleston. Then Nasa Hataoka tidies up, and she’s carding a magnificent 68 that saw her make three birdies in the last six holes. It was so close to four. She’s set a mark at -4. Can either Saso or Thompson birdie the last to snatch it?
-4: Hataoka (F), Saso (17), Thompson (17)
-2: Khang (F), Feng (F)
Saso clips her hybrid down the middle of the very narrow 18th fairway. The pressure’s really on Thompson now. Iron for safety. She whipcracks it down the track. What a response, especially in light of what’s just happened on 17. Up on the green, Hataoka rolls her birdie effort down the green. For a sweet second, it looks like dropping, but then veers off to the right. She should tap in for a 68, but nothing’s certain in this cauldron. Before that can happen, Shanshan Feng pars for a 71. She ends the week at -2.
Thompson sends a tentative dribbler towards the hole, the ball breaking apologetically to the left. A little more pace would have taken the gentle break out of the equation. Saso taps in for birdie. And up on 18, Hataoka sends her second over the flag to 15 feet. Anything is on now!
-4: Hataoka (17), Saso (17), Thompson (17)
-2: Khang (F), Feng (17)
Saso splashes from the big bunker to three feet. That’s really cranked up some matchplay-style pressure on Thompson, who having chunked a couple of chips today, opts to take putter from off the front. She clacks it to six feet. Massive putt coming up. But beforehand, some light relief – and a huge cheer – as Megha Ganne makes her first birdie of the day. Her smile is as wide as San Francisco Bay. She’s +3.
Three putts for Megan Khang on 18, and while she’s the new clubhouse leader, the mark is only -2. Her flat stick has let her down this afternoon, though it was the four consecutive bogeys on the back nine yesterday that crushed her hopes.
Saso, having bashed a fine drive down the right side of the 17th fairway, sends her hybrid into the bunker guarding the front left of the green. Up on 18, Hataoka swishes a controlled tee shot down the middle of the very narrow fairway. And back on 17, after great deliberation, Thompson leaves her approach a club short. “I hit that real good! I was staring that down. How stupid do I look?” Some light-hearted patter with her caddy there, but you can be sure she’ll be churning inside. She needs a big up and down from the apron at the front of the green to save par.
Thompson’s lie is appalling, and she needs every fibre of her being just to lash 40 yards up the hole. She’s making a meal of this short par-five. But up on the green, Feng takes three putts from the fringe, the bogey dropping her back to -2. Hataoka, however, having dribbled her long downhill birdie effort six feet past, knocks in the return to save her par. She departs the scene with a spring in her step. Penny for the thoughts of Thompson, back up the hole, looking the other way, trying to rediscover the exact location of The Zone.
The nerves are really kicking in now. Thompson pulls her drive on 17 into the thick stuff down the left. She’ll not be able to reach from there, surely. Up on 18, Khang’s tee shot finds the cabbage down the right, but she gouges a wedge onto the green. She’s a ways from the flag, but that’s a result from where she was. Two putts, and she’ll be setting a new clubhouse lead at -3.
Feng can’t reach the par-five 17th in two from the rough. She doesn’t reach it in three, either, coming up short with her wedge. Hataoka sends her second into thick rough guarding the front, her hybrid hanging up in the breeze. It’s doubly unlucky, because she was inches away from toppling into the bunker, leaving a relatively easy splash. As it is, her ball comes out hot. She’ll have a tricky two putts for par.