Who Was the First Asian Golfer to Win a Major?

Y.E. Yang was the first male golfer to win a major championship, but not the first overall

The first Asia-born golfer to win a major championship was Chako Higuchi of Japan, who won the LPGA Championship in 1977. In the men's majors, the first Asian golfer to win didn't come along until 2009, when Y.E. Yang of South Korea won the PGA Championship.

First Asian Major Winner: Chako Higuchi

Chako Higuchi won only twice on the LPGA Tour, but they were both historic victories. At the 1976 Colgate European Open, she became the first Asian and first Japanese golfer to win an LPGA tournament. And at the 1977 LPGA Championship, Higuchi became the first Asian and first Japanese golfer to win one of the LPGA's major championships — or any major championship in golf.

Higuchi was (and is) a legend in Japan, where, mostly in the 1970s and 1980s, she won a record 69 times on the LPGA of Japan Tour. She won the Japan Women's Open eight times, the Japan LPGA Championship nine times, and led the JLPGA in money 11 times.

In the 1977 LPGA Championship, played at Bay Tree Golf Plantation in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Higuchi went into the final round tied with Pat Bradley and Judy Rankin. Higuchi shot 69 in the final round, Bradley and Rankin 72 each. Higuchi won by three strokes over Bradley, Rankin and Sandra Post.

First Asian Major Winner in Men's Golf: Y.E. Yang

It took until 2009 — 32 years after Higuchi did it on the LPGA Tour — for the first Asian winner of a men's major championship to come along. And that was Y.E. Yang of South Korea.

Just like Higuchi on the LPGA Tour, Yang won only twice on the PGA Tour. In 2009, he won The Honda Classic in March. Then, in August, Yang got the better of Tiger Woods in a fourth-round battle to win the 2009 PGA Championship. He finished at 280, three strokes better than runner-up Woods. Yang posted numerous wins around the world, however, including winning on the European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Asian Tour, OneAsia Tour and Korean Tour.

There were a couple close calls for Asian golfers in men's majors prior to Yang's breakthrough. Most famous are two: At the 1971 British Open, Lee Trevino won by a stroke over Taiwan's Lu Liang-Huan; and at the 1980 U.S. Open, Jack Nicklaus won by two strokes over Japan's Isao Aoki.

Photo credit: Y.E. Yang, "Lyoness Open, Tag 1" by shotclockmasters is licensed under CC0 1.0

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