SAN DIEGO — The jangled nerves were almost too much for Yuka Saso, and she didn’t even have a putter in her hand with the U.S. Women’s Open on the line.
She was at Torrey Pines on Tuesday. She met Rory McIlroy.
“I didn’t know how to say, ‘Hi.’ But he was so nice. He was so kind. He was so open,” Saso said. “When I asked him a question, he was so honest. I hope I can ask him more advice.”
Life has been a whirlwind for Saso since the 19-year-old Filipino won the U.S. Women’s Open two weeks ago in a playoff at The Olympic Club. She has tried to model her swing after McIlroy, and the four-time major champion served up a video message to her going into the final round.
Saso was at the U.S. Open with her trophy making the rounds, posing with U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, meeting PGA champion Phil Mickelson.
Saso was nervous meeting her golfing idol, but she also showed off her engaging personality.
“I saw Phil activating his calves, and yeah, I saw Jordan Spieth,” she said. “I saw the great players. It’s been a great day, and I’m thinking to come back tomorrow morning before I fly back to Atlanta.”
The ultimate goal was to meet McIlroy. She headed to the range, only to find out he already was on the course. So she met up with him and walked alongside for a few holes.
“He let me go inside the ropes. That was really great,” Saso said. “I talked to him about things. I can’t share it with you guys. I want to keep it with me.”
Saso was headed for Atlanta to get ready for the third LPGA major of the year, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.
SCHAUFFELE AND TORREY
Tiger Woods hit one of the most memorable shots in golf history at the 2008 U.S. Open, sinking a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Rocco Mediate while playing with a torn ACL and two stress fractures.
Among the masses around Torrey Pines’ 18th hole was 14-year-old Xander Schauffele, who had posted up against a nearby tree so he could see over the crowd to witness history.
“I had to watch Tiger finish,” he said. “I just remember the putt he made on 18 and me being up against a tree and being part of that environment, how cool and special that moment was, and how motivated I was shortly after it to go practice and try and hit the same shot he hit there, hit the same putt.”
He grew up in San Diego and Torrey Pines was his high school team’s home course, so the USGA’s announcement that the U.S. Open would return was met with plenty of excitement in the Schauffele household.
Schauffele remembered the moment while walking down the first fairway with his dad during Tuesday’s practice round.
“When they announced this site here on TV, my dad and I were sitting on the couch, and we were like, ‘Hey, we need to do whatever we can to get into this tournament,’” Schauffele said. “Here we are sitting here trying to win the thing. Maybe I didn’t set lofty enough goals seven years ago, but they’re definitely lofty enough now.”
Schauffele certainly has a shot at it. He’s contended in numerous majors, is ranked No. 6 in the world and was the runner-up to Patrick Reed at Torrey Pines in January.
The USGA has gone with local ties for the first tee shots at recent U.S. Opens.
Sahith Theegala gets his turn this year at Torrey Pines.
Theegala grew up in Orange, just up the coast, and was chosen among all the Southern California players in the field to hit the first tee shot at the U.S. Open.
“I was so pumped,” Theegala said. “Are you kidding me, hitting the first shot at a major championship? That’s something that me and my family will obviously never forget.”
At Winged Foot last year, Danny Balin of White Plains, New York, hit the first tee shot off No. 1 and Brandon Wu, who’s from Scarsdale, got first-shot honors on No. 10.
Sam Saunders was honored with the first tee shot at Pebble Beach in 2019. His grandfather, Hall of Famer Arnold Palmer, was part of the ownership group at Pebble Beach.
Michael Putnam, who grew up less than a mile from Chambers Bay, hit the first tee shot at the 2015 U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka’s right knee hurt so much at the Masters he couldn’t crouch to read putts. He missed the cut. It was better at the PGA Championship, where he was a runner-up to Phil Mickelson. Koepka says it is much improved for the third major of the year.
“I have more mobility,” Koepka said Tuesday. “I’m doing things this week that I haven’t done in a long time.”
Jordan Spieth also is making improvements with his right ankle.
He didn’t say much about the injury, only that he jammed his foot while carrying his club while leaving the course.
“So it’s been hurting, but it’s nothing that I’m going to do more damage to or anything like that,” he said. “So I’m fine.”
Spieth said he had a little trouble pushing off on the foot on some of his tee shots.
“I think yesterday was better than the day before, which was better than the day before. So I assume just continue treatment and rest, and it should be fine,” he said.
Gary Woodland has a little more than two months remaining to try to reach his goal of playing in the Ryder Cup.
Few players were hurt more by the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down golf, which included postponing the Ryder Cup by a year and leading to changes in the team structure.
Woodland, who won the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, was No. 4 in the U.S. standings before the shutdown. Now he’s at No. 21, running out of time to earn one of the automatic six spots or at least give Steve Stricker reason to use one of six captain’s picks on him.
“I think I would have made the team if we would have had it before COVID, and then I battled injuries and battled a lot. I dropped way down,” Woodland said. “I’m happy with where my game is. I’m happy where the confidence level is. I don’t think I’m too far off where I can play my way back in. I think I can do that, and that starts this week.”