FIL-JAPANESE Yuka Saso 2021 US Women’s Open champion — REUTERS

FIL-JAPANESE Yuka Saso is keeping the same old mindset as she hits the golf course for the 77th US Women’s Open amid much hype and pressure as the major’s defending champion.

“I just want to enjoy and have fun,” Ms. Saso said in a presscon ahead of the prestigious tournament that starts on Thursday in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Having a blast playing against the world’s best comes with her intense desire to be at her very best.

“Playing good golf (would be the key to victory),” said Ms. Saso, who beat Japanese Nasa Hataoka in the third playoff hole in her breakthrough triumph last year in San Francisco.

The 20-year-old Ms. Saso has the chance to become only the third player after greats Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb to win back to back US titles in the June 2-4 battle at the Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club.

“I wouldn’t compare myself to Annika and Karrie. They’re awesome players, they’re legends. I would do my best; whatever the outcome is, I would be grateful,” she said.

As the titleholder, Ms. Saso’s image is all over the golf course and hotel — something that she said makes her “happy but a little bit shy.”

Some are giving her the tag of “favorite,” but Ms. Saso shrugged it off.

“Am I? Not really. I’m just here to do my best. Hopefully, everyone that watches us golfers enjoys it,” she said.

Ms. Saso starts her bid on Thursday (Friday in Manila) on Hole No. 1 in the company of amateur Jensen Castle and Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist.

Two more Filipino aces are vying in the $10-million event with Bianca Pagdanganan and Dottie Ardina kicking off their respective campaigns in separate flights on the backside. — Olmin Leyba