Yuka Saso continues eye-opening trend of players making their first LPGA title a major

JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – Yuka Saso’s picture hung from a skyscraper in Manila the day after she became the first Filipino player to win a major championship title. Saso graced the front page of every major newspaper in her home country and Postmaster General Norman Fulgencio announced her face would be featured on a stamp.

It’s no wonder Saso slept with the trophy that first night.

“Actually, my trophy stayed on the bed and I stayed on the couch,” she joked.

Saso is the latest in a long line of players who made their first LPGA title a major. Seven of the last 11 major winners, in fact, have been first-time winners on tour. Four of those seven players were non-members.

When Saso clinched the U.S. Women’s Open title at Olympic Club on the third playoff hole, she also seized a five-year exemption on the LPGA. That’s a new bonus – call it the Popov Rule – after Sophia Popov won the AIG Women’s British Open title in 2020 and an uproar followed that she wasn’t in the next week’s event let alone the next major and that, as a non-member, she only received a two-year exemption on tour.

The LPGA announced changes that addressed all of those issues earlier this year.

“She gets everything she deserves,” said Popov. “She’s a great player. She’s a great human being. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t have a five-year exemption out on Tour.”

Saso, who turned 20 on Sunday 20, was over-the-moon about meeting idol Rory McIlroy (and Phil!) for the first time as the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. McIlroy invited her inside the ropes, and the woman who spent hours watching YouTube videos of McIlrory’s swing, got to take her own video. She was more nervous meeting McIlroy that she was over the birdie putt she needed to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

“I didn’t know how to say hi,” she said.

Asked how often she’d watched highlights of her victory at Olympic, Saso said she doesn’t like watching herself.

“I’d rather watch Rory’s,” she said with a smile.

Jennifer Kupcho is the highest-ranked LPGA player, at No. 24, who hasn’t yet won on tour. She tied for second at the Evian in her rookie season and took a share of seventh at the Women’s PGA in 2021.

The last seven LPGA major winners happen to be first-time major winners, too. They hail from five different countries and none are Americans.

When Stacy Lewis first came on tour in 2009, she felt like roughly 30 players had a chance any given week. That number has more than doubled, she said.

“It shows that these girls are more prepared coming out,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing is they’re more prepared for the big stages and to handle the pressure of it, which is a great thing. You don’t necessarily want to have to have the huge learning curve and all of that.”

“Whether we continue to see it, I don’t know. It’s just so hard to win now.”

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