ROGERS, ARK | After taking a week off in the midst of an unremarkable season, Yuka Saso returned to the league in style. She made a bogey-free, 7-under performance early in the opening round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship hosted by P&G.
The game plan she came up with during her week off that helped her to the top of the leaderboard was simple:
“Get good tee shots, hit the green and hopefully make a putt,” Saso said.
The hardest part of that plan, of course, is its execution. So, to be a little more specific, it was Saso’s consistency and precision that threw her into the fray. On a short course like Pinnacle Country Club, precise approaches become the difference-maker. Last year, Nasa Hataoka hit 90.7% of her greens in regulation en route to her second NW Arkansas Championship title. For Saso, strong approaches start at the tee.
“(Precision is) pretty important (here),” Saso said. “You have to hit a good shot off the tee so you can give yourself a shot on the green. And you have to be able to putt well.”
With her focus on playing accurately, Saso was stable throughout her round and found no streaks or dips. She started her day on the back nine with birdies on 10 and 18 before turning the tide and scoring five more birdies on holes 1, 2, 4, 7 and 8. She made par everywhere, a mistake that was nowhere to be seen.
“My shots were very consistent today,” said Saso. “I actually didn’t miss a single shot. I chipped really well and my putting was pretty good too. I think it was a pretty quiet lap.”
Friday’s result was a return to form for Saso, who struggled for most of the 2022 season following her breakthrough at the 2021 US Women’s Open presented by ProMedica, kicking off her LPGA Tour career. After finishing sixth in the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and third in the Gainbridge LPGA in Boca Rio, Saso has missed the cut seven times in 17 starts and has yet to finish in the top 10. Cognizant Founders Cup in May, where she finished in 12th place.
Saso has struggled to accept her mediocre performance this year and is known for being hard on herself at times. Even with a scoring performance like today she could still come off the track a bit disappointed.
“Even though I could (shoot) 3-under, 4-under as long as I was happy with how I played, I’ll be happy,” explained Saso. “But sometimes when I shoot 5-under and I feel like I could have done better, I feel a little low. I think it depends on the situations, how I played.”
With seven birdies, no bogeys and a consistently accurate performance, the question is, is Yuka Saso happy with today’s results?
“I am very happy.” As she absolutely should be.