THE Filipino athletes seeing action in the coming Tokyo Olympics starting July 23 deserve the full support and prayers of the entire nation.
This was underscored by the Games and Amusements Board (GAB), headed by Chairman Abraham “Baham” Mitra, as it lauded the decision of reigning US Open women’s champion Yuka Saso to skip the LPGA-Evian Masters tournament “to focus on the Olympics.”
Saso, one of three Filipino golfers entered in the prestigious but coronavirus-interrupted sports competition, begged off from the Evian Championship scheduled July 22-25 in France to concentrate on the Tokyo Olympics.
The Evian Championship is the LPGA Tour’s fifth and final major championship.
“Like Juvic Pagunsan, who begged off from the British Open, Yuka decided to skip the Evian Masters and set her sights at winning a medal in the Tokyo Olympics,” said GAB consultant for golf Oliver Gan, who spoke on behalf of Chairman Mitra.
Gan, a former junior golf champion himself, commended Saso for deciding to represent tbe country in the Olympics instead of trying her luck in the cash-rich Evian.
“The Evian Masters is really a big tournament. It is the British Open version for the female golfers,” Gan told People’s ToniGan said both Pagunsanand Saso will benefit a lot from the presence of golf champion Artemio Murakami×ho could provide valuable insights as coach-caddie during the Tokyo Olympics.
“Murakami, a former Asian Golf Tour champion, will go and caddie for Juvic in Tokyo. Sigurado maa-alalayan din niya si Yuka at the same time,” explained Gan, a contemporary of Murakami in junior golf from 1997-2001.
Earlier, GAB also lauded Pagunsan for choosing to represent the country in the Tokyo Olympics instead of the British Open scheduled July 15-18 at the Royal St. George’s golf course.
GAB, the country’s highest governing body in professional sports, believes Pagunsan has a good chance of winning the gold medal.
“We have a pretty good chance at the gold medal in men’s golf with Juvic around,” said Gan, who added that the 43-year-old Pagunsan has an edge because he doesn’t need to acclimatize with the weather as he is already based in Japan.
“It is going to be hot and humid there. Medyo lamang na tayo,” said Gan in an earlier interview.
“I talked to his coach, Marlon Dizon, about this choice of playing in the Olympics and the British Open. We both agreed that since he was able to play before in the British Open, it’s better to go to the Olympics and give a better fighting chance for the flag. After all, the Olympics is a once in a lifetime experience,” explained Gan.
He said the adverse weather conditions during the British Open is another consideration.
“Mahirap ang condition sa Europe. Super mahangin at super malamig. The field is stronger and the course longer. And of course, time difference. When he gets back to Tokyo, he will have to quarantine also. So it might not be a.good option.”
Pagunsan is currently ranked 50th in the official world Olympic golf rankings, with the world’s top 60 golfers getting invitations to Tokyo.
Saso is currently No. 9 in the world; and Bianca Pagdangana is listed as No. 42.
“Yuka has a very good chance since she is based in Japan. Her confidence level is also very high, especially after winning the US Open,” explained Gan..
“As for Bianca, she is struggling right now on the LPGA tour. Hopefully when she flies out of America and be with Yuka in Tokyo, she gets back her game.”
With three golfers in Tokyo, the Philippines will have the most golfers sent to the Olympics since golf was reintroduced in 2016.
Miguel Tabuena was the lone Filipino golfer who competed in 2016 Rio de Janeiro, finishing 53rd overall.
Golf was not included in the Olympic program from 1907 to 2012.