Saki Baba wins U.S. Women's Amateur in dominant fashion, marking another victory for Japanese golf
Saki Baba holds the championship trophy after winning the 2022 U.S. Women's Amateur at Chambers Bay.
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 the No. 1 men’s amateur for 104 weeks straight. And six of the top 30 female professionals in the world are Japanese. Now, Saki Baba, the 17-year-old Tokyo-born sensation has clinched a resounding U.S. Women’s Amateur victory with nearly flawless play over seven days at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash.
Sense a pattern?
The Japanese golf community surely will be smiling as it wakes up to this expected result from the 45th-ranked amateur in the world.
With a crushing 11-and-9 win over 21-year-old Monet Chun of Canada in Sunday's scheduled 36-hole championship match, Baba’s victory is the third largest winning margin in the championship’s history. The teenager is the first Japanese player to hoist the Robert Cox Trophy in 37 years, since Michiko Hattori won it in 1985 at 16.
Baba looked unstoppable all day at the former U.S. Open venue. She tore up the linksy Chambers Bay set-up, sporting her signature sun sleeves, and drained putts seemingly from everywhere with her center-shafted putter. Up seven after the morning 18, Baba had a brief slip-up on the 20th and 21st holes, giving two back to Chun, who plays at the University of Michigan. But that blip didn’t last long, the setback fueling Baba winning six straight holes, ending the match on just the 27th hole of the day. The Japan Wellness Highschool student sealed the victory in expert fashion, sinking a mid-range birdie putt on the par-3 10th.
“It was pretty amazing just to watch,” Chun said. “She was going for every pin, making every putt, and that's hard to match up.”
Saki Baba celebrates at the 27th hole after closing out her 11-and-9 victory in the championship match. (Darren Carroll/USGA)
Baba credits much of the confidence she had this week to her local Chambers Bay caddie, Beau Brushert, who has been looping there for 13 years.
“I think it’s been my caddie Beau who has really helped me,” said Baba through her interpreter. “The way we were reading everything was really good.”
The pair was randomly matched up at the beginning of the week and developed an effective system to combat the language barrier: Baba and Brushert used hand-signaling and yardage-book illustrations to communicate.
“We've gotten good with the sign language,” Brushert said. “And I'm an amazing artist on the yardage book with stick figures. I'm a good stick figure drawer. I just kind of tell her where to put it, and yeah, she's done the rest. She's amazing.”
Saki Baba, left, and caddie Beau Brushert display the flag from their final hole after winning the U.S. Women's Amateur on Sunday at Chambers Bay. (Darren Carroll/USGA)
Baba, who plays out of Forest Narusawa Golf & Country Club in the outskirts of Tokyo, competes on the International Team for the Japan Golf Association at home. Standing 5-foot-7, she takes inspiration from her golf idol, Nelly Korda.
Before this summer, Baba was a stranger to American competitive golf, though you’d never guess it based on her stellar performance at three USGA championships. Baba qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open on her 17th birthday, and then went on to be one of the four amateurs to make the cut at Pine Needles in June. At the U.S. Girls' Junior in July, hosted at Olde Stone in Bowling Green, Ky., Baba earned co-medalist honors and reached the round of 32. Ben Vigil, Baba’s referee during the round of 64 at the Girls' Junior, described Baba’s lack of match-play experience on Twitter: “I refereed Saki’s Round of 64 match at the #USGirlsJunior, it was basically her first match-play experience. She didn’t even know how to concede putts.”
Despite the initial unfamiliarity, Baba expressed to the media throughout the week how enthusiastic she’s become about playing golf in the U.S., and how she has come to feel so at home.
“The people here are so nice, so I was able to meet those people, and it made me really happy,” Baba said earlier in the week. “Being able to play in the States is so different from what I've been playing, so that's what made me happy.”
Baba’s summer in the U.S. would not have been possible if it weren’t for the change in amateur golf rules that came in January, allowing the teenager to take on 12 sponsors to help fund her initial trip to Pine Needles. Tetsuya, Baba’s father, told Golf Digest Japan that the trips would have required him to borrow money if it weren’t for the companies that were willing to take a chance on his daughter. Wise investments, as it were.
In reaching the finals, both Baba and Chun have secured exemptions to the U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach in 2023. Baba’s impressive play in her first summer on the American golf scene portends a promising future for the latest young Japanese star.