November 16, 2021 | 12:00am
Golfer Yuka Saso has chosen to represent Japan when she turns 22 in 2023 and it’s a huge loss for the Philippines whose colors she wore in bagging golds in the individual and team events at the 2018 Asian Games, winning the US Women’s Open this year and finishing joint ninth at the recent Tokyo Olympics. She was made to choose which passport to hold by the Japanese government before turning 22 as it does not recognize dual citizenship. Yuka was born in San Ildefonso, Bulacan, to a Filipina mother and a Japanese father.
Several Filipino-Japanese athletes who reside in Japan have represented the Philippines in the Olympics after turning 22. Tomihiko Hoshino, born in Shizuoka, Japan, was 25 when he competed for the Philippines in judo at the 2012 Olympics and Kiyomi Watanabe, born in Cebu, was also 25 when she represented the Philippines in judo at the Tokyo Games. World-ranked karateka Junna Tsukii is 30 and took the bronze at the 2018 Asian Games and gold at the 2019 SEA Games for the Philippines. Sarah Kamijo Pangilinan, 18, is another Filipino-Japanese karateka in kata and was born in Japan. Pangilinan can hardly speak Pilipino or English and represents the Philippines in international competitions, including the World Championships starting today in Dubai. Were Hoshino, Watanabe and Tsukii asked to choose either Japanese or Filipino citizenship before they turned 22? Will Pangilinan be made to choose before she turns 22? Shouldn’t the law be applied to everyone regardless of status?
National Golf Association of the Philippines secretary-general Bones Floro said it’s understandable why Yuka chose Japanese citizenship and the federation thanks her for the years she represented the country. No rancor, no ill feeling, it’s all good. “Golf is a mainstream sport in Japan and there are tremendous commercial opportunities for the top golfers,” he said. “Besides, the power of a Japanese passport is undeniable. We’ll continue to follow Yuka’s journey and cheer for her. But we’re moving on.”
Floro was recently in Abu Dhabi with six crack Filipina parbusters who participated in the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Golf Championships. The country’s top finisher was the youngest in the team, Grade 9 student Rianne Malixi who’s 14. Malixi ended up tied for 23rd at four-under after four rounds. Lois Kaye Go, 22, was tied for 31st with an aggregate of one-under. Nicole Abelar, 20, was tied for 38th at two-over and Bernice Olivarez-Ilas, 21, placed No. 41 at three-over. Mikha Fortuna, 21, wound up tied for 45th at seven-over. The only Filipina who failed to make the cutoff for the last two rounds was Sofia Chabon, 21. Chabon missed the cut by five strokes and joined 26 others by the wayside. She carded a seven-over after two rounds. There were 51 golfers who advanced up to the fourth round.
Go just graduated from the University of South Carolina. She pocketed a gold in the team event with Yuka and Bianca Pagdanganan at the 2018 Asian Games and another gold with Pagdanganan in the 2019 SEA Games team event. Abelar plays for the University of Houston, Olivarez-Ilas for San Diego State, Fortuna for the University of Oklahoma and Chabon for California Baptist. There are several other Filipino golfers in US colleges, including Samantha Bruce of Seattle, Jolo Magcalayo of Santa Clara and Jed Dy of George Washington.
Floro, whose grandfather Danny was well-loved in basketball circles as the Crispa owner, paid tribute to the country’s junior golf program for continuing to develop outstanding prospects. “The future is bright for Philippine golf,” he said.