Golfer Chako Higuchi, First Asian Major Winner

Chako Higuchi was the first female golf star in Japan and completely dominated the Japanese tour in its first decade of existence. Then she traveled to America and became the first Japanese golfer to win on the LPGA Tour, and then the first Asia-born golfer, male or female, to win an international major championship.

Full name: Hisako Matsui Higuchi

Date of birth: October 13, 1945

Place of birth: Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan

Nickname: Chako is a nickname in Japan for the proper name Hisako. On the LPGA Tour, she was known by her peers and by media as Chako.

Tournament wins: 69 on the JLPGA, two on the LPGA Tour (wins are listed at the bottom of this article)

Becoming the First Asian Major Winner

At the 1977 LPGA Championship (the major now named the Women's PGA Championship), Hisako "Chako" Higuchi became not just the first Japanese golfer to win an LPGA major, but the first Asian golfer to win any major, women's or men's.

Higuchi opened with a 71, then took the lead with a second-round 67. After a third-round 72, Higuchi was tied for the lead with LPGA stars Pat Bradley and Judy Rankin. But Higuchi shot 69 — running off three consecutive birdies at one point on the back nine — in the final round to win by three over Bradley, Rankin and Sandra Post.

Upon her return to Japan, Higuchi received a ticker-tape parade through Tokyo.

No Asia-born golfer would win a men's major until Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship. And another Japanese woman didn't win an LPGA major until Hinako Shibuno at the 2019 Women's British Open.

JLPGA Domination

Higuchi was a founding member of the LPGA of Japan (JLPGA) Tour, which began play in 1968. And Higuchi led the young tour's money list from that year until 1976, plus another couple years for a total off 11 times.

Her early dominance in Japan is also seen in the three tournaments that the JLPGA counted as its own majors. In the Japan LPGA Championship, Higuchi won it the first seven years it was played, from 1968-74, plus twice more (1976-77).

In the Japan Women's Open, she won it the first three years it was played, 1968-71, plus four more times: 1974, 1976-77 and 1980. In the World Ladies Championship, she won it the first two years it was played, 1973-74. All told, Higuchi won 18 JLPGA majors.

And her total victories? She won 69 JLPGA titles in all. Not other JLPGA golfer has yet reached 60 wins.

Higuchi's identification with the JLPGA continued after her playing days ended, too: She became commissioner of the tour in 1994 and held the position for decades.

Early Life, LPGA Success and More About Chako Higuchi

Higuchi didn't necessarily look like a great golfer when she swung the club — only when you watched the ball after her swing.

Peter Alliss once wrote about Higuchi, "Chako has a highly unusual swing which features a flying right elbow and a sway to the right on the backswing, her head moving about a foot."

That sway was so pronounced, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame, that she lost sight of the golf ball at the top of her backswing.

But that unusual swing was one she could repeat effortlessly, and the results speak for themselves. As Judy Rankin put it, talking about Higuchi's time on the LPGA Tour:

"Chako was very well liked, and a wonderful player. She had beautiful tempo and great balance. You never thought of Chako hitting a wild shot."

As a kid, Higuchi's sport wasn't golf, but track and field. It wasn't until she was 16 that she took up golf. That was 1961, when there was no women's golf tour in Japan — and barely any women golfers.

Higuchi began taking lessons from Torakichi "Peter" Nakamura, who had been part of Japan's winning team at the 1957 World Cup of Golf (then called the Canada Cup). And she also caddied for him on the Japanese men's tour. Nakamura had an odd swing, too, which probably influenced the development of Higuchi's swing.

She turned pro in 1967, and one year later, thanks in part to Higuchi's efforts, the LPGA of Japan Tour debuted.

In 1970, Higuchi went abroad to try her hand on the LPGA Tour. She was never more than a part-time player on the LPGA, and for a limited period of time, too (around 10 years). Yet, by the time she went back to Japan full-time (around 1981), Higuchi ranked in the Top 50 on the LPGA's all-time money list.

She was runner-up in the LPGA Heritage Open in 1971, had two runner-up finishes in 1973, and was runner-up in back-to-back weeks in 1979 at the LPGA Mizuno Classic and Colgate Hong Kong Open. She also lost in a 5-way playoff at the 1979 Women's Kemper Open.

But along the way she won the Women's Australian Open in 1974. In 1976, she became the first Japanese winner on the LPGA Tour at the Colgate European Open. And in 1977 came her major championship victory.

Higuchi finished 10th on the LPGA money list in 1976, and 18th in 1977 (despite very few starts). Her scoring average often ranked near the top, but she never played enough rounds to qualify for the Vare Trophy race.

In the early 1980s Higuchi returned full-time to Japan and continued playing on the JLPGA into the 1990s. Her final JLPGA victory was in 1990. Four years later she became commissioner of the JLPGA.

The Hisako Higuchi Classic has been a JLPGA tournament for many years. She also tried her hand at golf course design in her home country.

In 2003, Higuchi became the first Japanese golfer inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. She was presented at the ceremony by Kathy Whitworth, who said, "Those of us who know Chako and played with her all knew this date had to come at some time."

Hisako 'Chako' Higuchi's Tournament Wins

On the LPGA Tour:
  • 1976 Colgate European Open
  • 1977 LPGA Championship
On the LPGA of Japan Tour:

1968 Japan Women's Open
1968 Japan LPGA Championship
1969 Japan Women's Open
1969 Japan LPGA Championship
1970 Japan Women's Open
1970 Japan LPGA Championship
1970 JGP Ladies Open
1971 Japan Women's Open
1971 Japan LPGA Championship
1971 JGP Ladies Open
1971 Tokai Classic
1972 Japan LPGA Championship
1972 JPGA Asahi Kokusai Tournament
1972 JGP Ladies Open
1972 Tokai Classic
1972 Mizuno Golf
1973 Japan LPGA Championship
1973 World Ladies
1973 JGP Ladies Open
1973 La Coste Cup Japan vs. U.S.
1973 Matsushima Ladies Open
1973 Tokai Classic
1973 Mizuno Golf
1974 Japan Women's Open
1974 Japan LPGA Championship
1974 World Ladies
1974 LPGA Japan Classic
1974 Chikuma Kogen Ladies Open
1974 Tokyo Charity Classic
1974 Sunster Ladies Match, Mizuno Golf
1975 Tokai Classic
1976 Japan Women's Open
1976 Japan LPGA Championship
1976 Sanpo Champions
1976 Miyagi TV Cup Ladies Open Golf Tournament
1976 Tokai Classic
1977 Japan Women's Open
1977 Japan LPGA Championship
1977 Tokai Classic
1978 Junon Ladies Open
1978 Shinkoh Classic LPGA Tournament
1978 Japan LPGA East vs. West
1979 Fuji Heigen Ladies Open
1979 Shinkoh Classic LPGA Tournament
1979 Japan LPGA East vs. West
1979 Hokuriku Queens Golf Cup
1979 Toyotomi Ladies
1980 Japan Women's Open
1980 KBS Kyoto Ladies Golf Tournament
1980 Tokai Classic
1981 Okinawa Makiminato Auto Ladies Tournament
1981 Tokushima Tsukinomiya Ladies Open Golf Tournament
1981 Pioneer Cup
1982 Hokuriku Queens Golf Cup
1982 Kumamoto Chuou Ladies Cup Golf Tournament
1983 Kibun Ladies Classic
1983 Paris Ladies Classic
1983 Japan LPGA East vs. West
1983 LPGA Japan vs. U.S.
1983 Daioh Seishi Elleair Ladies Open Golf Tournament
1984 Kumamoto Chuou Ladies Cup Golf Tournament
1984 Kibun Ladies Classic
1985 Chukyo TV-Bridgestone Ladies Open
1986 Fujitsu Ladies
1986 Tsumura-Itsuki Classic
1987 Yamaha Cup Ladies Open
1990 Japan Queens
1990 Kohsaido Asahi Golf Cup

On the ALPG Tour:

  • 1974 Wills Australian Ladies Open

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