I have a confession to make. The first time I saw Yuka Saso in person, I wasn’t impressed.
No hot air.
Just your regular lassie.
Our recently crowed US Open champion was a bit skinny then. This was 2018.
She wasn’t exactly your typical sweet 16 then. She was more of your run-of-the-mill free spirit than someone typecast as a rebel with a cause.
But she had eyes that pierce if you look long enough at them. Like a pair of arrows dipped in poison. Hers were fighting eyes. If looks could kill, Yuka, definitely, fit the bill.
“Podner, this is Yuka, one of our promising jungolfers,” said George Blaylock.
Yuka gently bowed as we shook hands.
“Good morning, Sir,” she said, her eyes glistening in the morning sun.
“Yuka,” said George to Yuka, “Mr. Mendoza here is a sportswriter.”
“Nice to meet you, Sir,” said Yuka to me, her sharp eyes fixed on mine.
“Same here, Yuka,” I said, avoiding her eyes.
Occasion was George Blaylock’s annual Diamond Motors Invitational at the Manila Golf Club inside plush Forbes Park in Makati.
Yuka was George’s special guest.
George was, still is, a robust supporter of Yuka’s golf career.
Needless to say, that momentous day made a historic entry in my diary: George had paired me with Yuka in our elite threesome.
To be honest, it was no big deal. Before Yuka, I had played with many jungolfers. Yuka was just “one of ‘em.”
But as we prepared to tee off, some queer thing was happening: Yuka was making her practice swings at the men’s tee.
OMG! She’d play from the men’s tee!
“I’d like you to watch her play, Podner,” George said to me.
After Yuka had outdriven me, easily, by more than 150 yards in our first hole—using a three-wood!—I insisted on hitting my second tee shot from the ladies tee. And onwards.
Yuka had a previous appointment that day. That’s why she played only nine holes with us.
I heaved a sigh of relief after we had said our goodbyes.
I could finally concentrate on my game.
In parting, I told Yuka: “Take care of your hands, always.”
“Thank you, Sir,” she said, bowing again.
Months later, Yuka, not yet 17, won the Asian Games gold in Jakarta with a last-hole eagle.
The rest is history.