PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. | No player from Japan has ever won the U.S. Women's Open. Yuka Saso still had to decide whether she would take Philippine or Japanese citizenship when she won at The Olympic Club in 2021. Ayako Okamoto lost in a playoff to Dame Laura Davies in 1987, giving the Englishwoman her first major and LPGA Tour victory. And Nasa Hataoka did the same to Saso at Olympic. Now, the 24-year-old is looking for redemption this week at Pebble Beach Golf Links, leading the 78th U.S. Women's Open by one shot through 54 holes.
Hataoka blitzed the field on Moving Day, firing a bogey-free, 6-under 66 that saw her make three birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13 to 17, including two back-to-back on the par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes. It's the first time that Hataoka has held the 54-hole lead or co-lead in a major championship in her career, and with the opportunity to become the first-ever Japanese U.S. Women's Open champion, she's going to do everything in her power not to let this moment pass her by.
"I still have this very last day to look forward to, and although circumstances may be different, some of the elements are still the same as they were versus two years ago. In other words, I have to go on all of those 18 holes, discuss with my caddie and work out what the best for me, and enjoy my day tomorrow," said Hataoka. "Certainly, there was that experience from two years ago at the Olympic Club and then also the KPMG playoffs when I did not win. I have that experience from those past tournaments, and so I want to be true to myself, and I want to rely on the help that I receive from my staff and all the people around me and do my best."
This week marks Hataoka's 12th start of the 2023 LPGA Tour season. In her 11 previous starts, she has recorded five T11 or better finishes, most notably capturing a solo fifth at the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions. According to KPMG Performance Insights, Hataoka ranked inside the top 15 in strokes gained total (+1.40), strokes gained tee-to-green (+1.19), and strokes gained approach (+0.84) before teeing it up in California, a combination that's been deadly so far considering Pebble Beach's small greens and narrow landing areas.
As she prepares to vie for her first major title and seventh LPGA Tour victory on Sunday, Hataoka will, of course, draw from her experience at The Olympic Club two years ago, hoping this time to have the Harton S. Semple trophy in hand come day's end. She will also remember how her fellow Japanese natives have performed in these same major situations, hoping to emulate their success at Pebble Beach.
"When Mr. Matsuyama won the Masters, I was elated for him. I was in Hawaii, and as a fellow Japanese player, I was encouraged by his victory. I want to feel that same encouragement and try my best tomorrow so I can perform similarly as he did," said Hataoka, who last won on the LPGA Tour at the 2022 DIO Implant LA Open. "I think the quality of the green and the grass quality is similar (to The Olympic Club). There are quite a bit of uphill areas as well as a great deal of bounce here, so I am hoping that I can keep in mind while I'm playing tomorrow everything that I've learned through my putting practice and to be able to be victorious over the next 18 holes tomorrow."