Pebble Beach, CA.
A captivating tale unfolded at the prestigious 2023 Women’s US Open held at the majestic Pebble Beach Golf Links. With surprises lurking at the top of the leaderboard and a field dominated by relatively unknown players, the tournament boasted the trademark iffy weather that Northern California’s famed peninsula is known for. Against this picturesque backdrop, the golfing spectacle commenced with three thrilling rounds that left spectators in awe.
As the sun set on Saturday’s proceedings, a solitary figure emerged at the summit. Nasa Hataoka, the gifted golfer from Japan, stood poised with only one final round to conquer on Sunday. The stage was set for a riveting match play showdown between Hataoka and the tenacious American contender, Allisen Corpuz, who settled for a commendable second place after a nerve-racking bogey on the 18th hole, finishing at an impressive score of -6. Corpuz would join Hataoka in the final group for the climactic fourth round.
Bailey Tardy, the American prodigy who had led the pack after 36 holes, faced the formidable challenge of blustery winds that swept across the course. In these challenging conditions, she gradually succumbed to the elements, slipping to a still-respectable fourth place. Tardy would now find herself paired with the talented South Korean golfer, Hyo Joo Kim, who also concluded the round with an impressive -4 score.
The marine layer that veiled the course during the initial days of play slowly dissipated, unveiling a breathtakingly sunny landscape that delighted the throngs of spectators flocking to witness their favorite players in action. However, a constant breeze accompanied the sun’s arrival, occasionally gusting up to 20 mph, creating a formidable obstacle for the competitors. Nowhere was this more evident than on the treacherous par 3 7th hole, where the coldish and blustery conditions challenged the players’ club selection, making every decision crucial.
Amidst the unfolding drama, the highly anticipated rookie sensation, Rose Zhang, faced a formidable test, enduring a challenging day that resulted in a +1 score, leaving her tied for ninth place. Zhang would need a remarkable performance on Sunday to ascend into the upper echelons of contention and become a true force to be reckoned with.
However, stealing the spotlight was the remarkable Nasa Hataoka, who wowed the crowds with a breathtaking display of golfing prowess. Shooting a spectacular 66, Hataoka embarked on a birdie spree during the back nine, eliciting roars of delight from her passionate Japanese fanbase. The swarming hordes of media also joined in, demonstrating their unwavering support for their beloved champion in the most polite and respectful manner.
LPGA aficionados couldn’t help but recall Hataoka’s heartbreaking second-place finish in a playoff at Olympic Golf Club two years prior and her series of near-misses in major championships. Should Hataoka prevail, she would etch her name in the annals of golfing history as the first Japanese player to clinch a major title, following in the illustrious footsteps of her compatriot, the esteemed Masters’ champion, Hideki Matsuyama.
Reflecting on her post-round interview, Hataoka fondly recalled her own experience cheering for Matsuyama and the immense pride she felt on that momentous occasion. With a glimmer of hope and determination, she expressed her desire for Matsuyama to return the favor on Sunday, solidifying their shared legacy as golfing icons from the Land of the Rising Sun.