Yuka Saso rallies to win 2024 U.S. Women’s Open for second major title

LANCASTER, Pa. – At the end of Yuka Saso’s winner’s press conference, a USGA official handed her a whoopie pie. The chocolate cake-like sandwiches, filled with a fluffy cream center, originated in Lancaster County, and legend has it that when Amish children found the desserts in their lunch pails, they’d yell “Whoopie!”

Saso shifted her seat around so that cameras couldn’t catch her taking a bite behind the Harton S. Semple trophy. It was the only shy moment of the day for the woman who stormed to the finish line at demanding Lancaster Country Club to claim her second U.S. Women’s Open title in three years.

When Saso won her first in a playoff at The Olympic Club at age 19, she represented her mother’s native Philippines, giving that country its first major championship. On Sunday in Lancaster, she represented Japan, giving her father’s native homeland its first U.S. Women’s Open champion.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling that I was able to give back to my parents in the same way,” said Saso, who got emotional during the trophy presentation when talking about her family.

The 79th edition of this championship will long be remembered as a week of surprises. It started with 29-year-old Lexi Thompson’s stunning retirement announcement. Two days later, Nelly Korda made a 10 on her third hole of the championship, putting three balls into the water on the par-3 12th, and it suddenly felt like the championship got punched in the gut.

The player who’d dominated the entire season, winning six of her last seven starts, wasn’t even around for the weekend. But the bleeding didn’t stop with Korda. The list of stars who exited early was a who’s who of favorites, including Rose Zhang, Brooke Henderson and Lydia Ko.

One silver lining: The mass exodus gave room for a surprise veteran – Wichanee Meechai – to step up to the mic and win over hearts with the rarest kind of honesty. The way 31-year-old Meechai talked about what pressure does to her body was a masterclass in letting people into an athlete’s mind. The fact that she told a few ghost stories along the way was icing on the whoopie pie.

By the time Sunday rolled around, only five players were under par and two-time major winner Minjee Lee was the undisputed favorite. Lee shared the lead at the start of the day with the winless Meechai and Andrea Lee, an American who’d won at every level but never the really big titles.

A couple of major champions who hadn’t done much lately, Saso and 2019 AIG Women’s Open champion Hinako Shibuno, rounded out the top five.

As the afternoon got underway in front some of the biggest galleries players will see this decade, Lee jumped out to an early advantage but struggles off the tee kept her from pulling away. Instead, the leaderboard felt like a free-for-all as every player who started the day in the red struggled with the pressure.

By the time American Ally Ewing posted a closing 66 to finish at even par for the tournament, it felt for a moment like she could pull off a come-from-behind finish for the ages.

But then Saso, who four-putted for double on the sixth hole, found another gear when she drained a rare birdie on Nelly’s nemesis 12th hole and kept going, pouring in more birdies on 13, 15 and 16. The 3-wood she hit from the tee on the drivable par-4 16th to 16 feet sent a powerful statement as she now led the field by three.

A clutch up-and-down on the 18th, where she’d struggled with a similar shot the day prior, sealed the three-shot victory for Saso, who made a staggering 422 feet of putts for the week.

Three years ago, Saso, who modeled her swing after her favorite player, Rory McIlroy. matched Inbee Park as the youngest champion in U.S. Women’s Open history in 2021 at 19 years, 11 months and 17 days. On Sunday, she became the youngest to win multiple titles at 22 years, 11 months and 13 days.

“We thought it was the perfect golf course for her,” said Saso’s veteran caddie Dylan Vallequette. “She hits it long; she hits it high.”

Saso’s $2.4 million payday is the largest first-place prize ever given at a women’s major. Shibuno’s closing 72 gave Japan an historic 1-2 finish. The Smiling Cinderella earned $1.3 million for her efforts and was asked how she planned to spend her money.

“I will ask Yuka to buy me something,” she joked.

For Andrea Lee, this was a massive building block as the former Stanford star found herself playing in the final group of a major for the first time.

“I was extremely nervous,” said Lee, who took a share of third with Ewing, “but I feel like I learned a lot about how to control my emotions out here.”

For Meechai, the week held a slew of firsts. Her share of sixth is her first top 10 in a major. She leaves Lancaster with an untold number of new fans and, hopefully, a world of confidence.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing right now and just believe in myself that I can do it,” she said, “that I can win the tournament. I think that’s the key for me now.”

Minjee Lee, the most grizzled veteran of the bunch in terms of success, posted the highest final round among the contenders, a 78. She dropped all the way to down to a share of ninth.

“Obviously, I’m going to acknowledge my disappointment and then come back stronger,” she said, “take the positives out of the week, you know.”

The classy Minjee, the 2022 USWO champion, stood in the back of the flash area with Saso’s father during the winner’s press conference. Shibuno stuck around, too, for her friend.

Asterisk Talley, the brace-faced, fearless 15-year-old who was in the top five after two rounds, shared low amateur honors with 2023 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Megan Schofill and USC’s Catherine Park. All three finished in a share of 44th.

For Saso, this victory likely means a return to the Olympics in Paris under a new flag as she vaults up the Rolex Rankings. It certainly means a return to the spotlight, where her name will be mentioned on a short list of players who pose a threat to Korda’s towering command.

In the meantime, Saso was off to find some dinner before she gets back to that whoopie pie. Can’t have too much sugar on an empty stomach, she explained.

After all, she was already on a natural high.

Golfers with at least two U.S. Women’s Open titles

Betsy Rawls (1951, 1953, 1957, 1960)

Mickey Wright (1958, 1959, 1961, 1964)

Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1948, 1950, 1954)

Susie Maxwell Berning (1968, 1972, 1973)

Hollis Stacy (1977, 1978, 1984)

Annika Sorenstam (1995, 1996, 2006)

Louise Suggs (1949, 1952)

JoAnne Gunderson Carner (1971, 1976)

Meg Mallon (1991, 2004)

Patty Sheehan (1992, 1994)

Juli Inkster (1999, 2002)

Inbee Park (2008, 2013)

Yuka Saso (2021, 2024)

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