Lady golfers pull epic Asiad coup
Yuka Saso, Kaye Louis Go, Bianca Pagdanganan of team Philippines. Asiad PHI Media Pool
JAKARTA – The national anthem was sung twice with pride and fervor in a paradise of a golf course at the heart of the city where two young Filipina bets fashioned out a pair of epic championship rounds for a major golf coup the country had never seen in the entire history of the Asian Games.
Yuka Saso and Bianca Isabel Pagdanganan sizzled from tee to green in their similar final-rounds of six-under-par 66s that produced no less than two gold and a bronze medals in a thrilling end in the 72-hole Asiad golf championships at the Pondok Indah golf course.
It’s grand two-gold sweep in women’s golf that propelled Team Phl notches all the way up to No. 14 in the medal race after it had fallen down to 24th on dull moments early in the day.
Thanks to the heroics of the Phl ladies golf team that also included Lois Kaye Go, the contingent has surpassed its showing the last time in Incheon in 2014 (one gold and 11 bronzes) and is now also assured of its best performance since the country produced four gold, six silver and nine bronze medals in Doha in 2006.
The Philippines skyrocketed past Southeast Asian rivals Singapore (2-2-9), Cambodia (2-0-1) and Malaysia (1-4-4) with a 3-0-10 tally also counting the bronze medals snared by Dines Dumaan and Jefferson Rhey Loon in pencak silat.
There’s no change atop the leaderboard with China at 72-55-32, followed by Japan 37-32-44, Korea 25-28-36, Iran 14-13-10 and host Indonesia 11-12-19.
Saso, Pagdanganan and Go joined forces to deliver a first Asiad golf team championship for the Philippines.
And with her sizzling closing round of 66 capped by a climactic eagle in the final hole, Saso, the reigning national women’s champ, emerged only the second individual golf gold medalist for the country since Ramon Brobio reigned supreme in the men’s side in 1986 in Seoul.
The final-day blitzkrieg was also spiked by Pagdanganan’s bronze-medal feat in women’s individual that she achieved on a sudden death versus Japanese Ayaka Furue.
“This was predicted from four years ago. The program started four years ago, and the result is right here,” said golf official Pepot Inigo.
“We owe a lot to the MVP Group. It’s on them why our team improved. It’s a wonderful feeling to win both the team and individual gold on top of the bronze,” said Caloy Coscolluela, the NGAP president.
Nine shots off the pacesetting Chinese team through 54 holes, non-playing captain Bones Floro said: “Strange things happen in golf.”
And strange things did happen Sunday fuelling a stirring rally by the Phl women’s team.
“I just never lost faith in myself and I never doubted this team right from the beginning. We are all fighters and we fought really hard out there for the country,” said Saso, with a winning card of 13-under 275 in the individual play with her rounds of 71-69-69-66.
Four shots off in individual play before the round, Saso rattled in three birdies in the front nine then strung up three straight birdies from No. 13 to eventually catch up with Liu Wenbo.
And it became a virtual playoff match that the eventual gold-medal winner won on a dramatic double-bogey/eagle windup.
Falling behind by two after the double-bogey on No. 17, the 17-year-old Filipina-Japanese recomposed herself and came through with the winning eagle on a wondrous second shot and an 18-foot putt from the fringe.
Truly strange, Saso even won by three as the erstwhile Chinese leader dumped her gold-medal hopes on a drive to the water, signing with a quadruple-bogey on the par-5 closing hole.
Pagdanganan, fresh from a title run with the University of Arizona in the US NCAA, also proved a big key in their come-from-behind triumph on her own 66 highlighted by four birdies in the last seven holes.
She struggled with earlier rounds of 72-70-71 before getting into a great championship groove.
The Philippines closed out with a 132 for a 22-under 554 total in team competition, beating the Koreans by three as the Chinese dropped down to third with a woeful 145 for 558.
Japan, China and Korea finished first, second and third in men’s play where the Philippines limped to an eighth-place finish with a one-over total. Lloyd Jefferson Go was the best finisher in individual play with a 69-285, eight off the gold-medal winner.
The achievements of the lady golfers more than made up for the losses of Filipino bets on other battlefronts.