In the year In 2021, Tsubasa Kajitani won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, and a few days later Hideki Matsuyama won the Masters. Keita Nakajima has been No. 1 Men’s Amateur for 104 straight weeks. And six of the top 30 female professionals in the world are Japanese. Now, Saki Baba, the 17-year-old Tokyo-born sensation, has won the US Women’s Amateur title all week at Chambers Bay University Plus Wash.
The Japanese golf community will surely be smiling as they wake up to the results expected from the 45th ranked amateur in the world.
Baba’s victory over 21-year-old Canadian Monet Chun 11 and 9 is the third-biggest win in the championship’s history. The teenager is the first Japanese player to lift the Robert Cox Trophy since Michiko Hattori won it in 1985 at the age of 16.
Baba seemed unstoppable all day at the former US Open. She tore through the Chambers Bay links, sporting her signature sun grip, and pulled out putts that seemed to come out of nowhere with a center shaft putter. After seven on the 18th, Baba had short bogeys on the 20th and 21st holes, giving Chun, who plays at the University of Michigan, two back. But that upheaval didn’t last long; Baba won six straight holes and only ended the match on the 27th hole of the day. The Japan Wellness High School student sealed the victory in professional fashion by sinking a mid-range birdie on the par-3 10th.
“It was amazing to see,” Chun said. “She was going for every pin, making every putt, and that’s hard to match.”
Baba confided this week to her local Chambers Bay caddy, Beau Broshert, who has been questioning her confidence for 13 years.
“I think it was Cadie Bow who really helped me,” Baba said through her translator. The way we read everything was great.
The pair randomly matched earlier in the week, and developed an effective system to combat the language barrier: Baba and Brushert used hand gestures and yardage book illustrations to communicate.
“We got a good deal on sign language,” Broschert said. “And I’m a great artist with a stick in the yard book. I am a good stick figure drawer. I told her where to put it, and yes, she finished the rest. She is amazing.
Baba, who plays out of the woodsy Narusawa Golf and Country Club on the outskirts of Tokyo, competes at home for the Japan Golf Association on the international team. Standing 5-foot-7, she draws inspiration from her golf idol, Nellie Korda.
Before this summer, Baba was a stranger to American competitive golf, though you’d never guess it based on her stellar performances at three USGA Championships. Baba qualified for the US Women’s Open on her 17th birthday, then became one of four amateurs to commit to the Pine Needles in June. They then advanced to the round of 32 at the USA Girls’ Juniors held at Old Stone in Bowling Green, Ky., where Baba finished joint medalists. On the match game experience TwitterI refereed Sakin’s Round of 64 game at #USGirlsJunior , essentially her first gaming experience. She didn’t even know how to receive puttys.
Although she didn’t know it at first, Baba revealed to the media during the week how envious she was of playing golf in the US and how at home she felt.
“The people here are very nice, so I was able to meet those people, and it made me very happy,” Baba said earlier in the week. “Being able to play at state is a lot different than what I’ve been playing, so that’s what makes me happy.”
Baba’s summer in the United States would not have been possible without a change in amateur golf rules in January, allowing the teenager to pick up 12 sponsors to help her make her first trip to the Pine Needles. Baba’s father, Tetsuya, told Golf Digest Japan that without companies willing to take a chance on his daughter’s trips, he would have had to borrow money. Artistic investments, as it were.
When they reached the end, both Baba and Chun They have confirmed they are exempt from the 2023 US Women’s Open at Pebble Beach. Baba’s impressive first summer on the American golf scene bodes well for the future for the latest young Japanese star.