Bianca Pagdanganan and Yuka Saso ended the first round of the 2020 Olympic women’s golf tournament with contrasting finishes, Wednesday at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The temperature reached as high as 37 degrees Celsius, with a heat index of 40 degrees. It ended up causing heat exhaustion for most participants including American Lexi Thompson’s caddie, Jack Fulghum. Saso’s own Lionel Matichuk earlier had to pull out on Tuesday due to the same situation. Instead, it was national team coach Miko Alejandro beside the Olympic rookie throughout the first round.
Pagdanganan soldiered on, though, armed with several ice packs and her handy fan to counter these grueling conditions. She ended with a solid 2-under 69 after 18 holes.
The 23-year-old Olympic debutant opened her account with back-to-back birdies of the first two holes, before needing a birdie once more in No.5 to negate the previous hole’s bogey. She stayed in the lead-up with that 2-under scorecard until South Korea’s Park Inbee took No. 6 on her turn with a birdie.
“I feel like I was hitting good shots, that is why I was able to lessen my mistakes out there. I think the real challenge was staying cool out there, to stay hydrated. It was really, really hot today. But I am familiar with this weather. This is like in the Philippines, so hindi ako nabigla.” Pagdanganan shared with MVP Sports Foundation ambassador Gretchen Ho.
It was a tough start for one of LPGA’s biggest drivers in the backside with a bogey of No. 11, but she eventually made up for it by almost acing No. 16. Nonetheless, with just inches left to cover Pagdanganan eventually got the birdie to go back to 2-under.
“Overall pretty good and I’m in a good position. I’m proud of how I played,” the 2020 KPMG Championship top 10 finisher ended.
On the other hand, reigning US Open Champion Saso has unexpectedly struggled in her opening round in Saitama. She ended with a 3-over 74 and in a share of 47th place for the day.
It was a pretty steady opening for the 20-year-old as she went into the clubhouse with a 1-over 37, but it was the back nine that did her in.
Back-to-back bogeys of Nos. 16 and 17 saw the reigning US Women’s Open champion in an unfamiliar territory further down the leaderboard, despite a huge make of the No. 14, which she almost eagled but eventually birdied.
“I think it was the grass,” Saso said on what made it difficult for her in the first round. “The grass was pretty tough for me. I think it’s different. It plays differently, so I think I have to adjust to that.
“For me, there are no expectations. I just have to do it, and I hope I can play better tomorrow. And sana mas medyo mag-cool down ‘yung weather.”
Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom held on to pace the pack with 5-under at the end of 18 holes. Two golfers are not far behind, as world no. 1 American Nelly Korda and surprise package in India’s Aditi Ashok are just a stroke behind at 4-under.
Pagdanganan and Saso continue their quest for Olympic glory as Round 2 is set to begin at 6:30 AM on Thursday.