Who Was the First Korean Winner on the LPGA Tour?

Korean golfers have made a huge impact on the recent history of the U.S.-based LPGA Tour, the top-level women's professional golf tour in the world. But who was the first golfer from South Korea to win on the American LPGA Tour? If you answered Se Ri Pak, you're wrong.

The very first Korean winner on the LPGA Tour was Ok-Hee Ku. Ku's trail-blazing victory happened in the 1988 Standard Register Turquoise Classic.

The Standard Register Turquoise Classic is probably better-remembered today as the Standard Register Ping or the Safeway International. It was a tournament that went by a lot of names as it was played on the LPGA Tour from 1980 through 2009, always in the Phoenix, Arizona area. That tournament was also the site of the first 59 in LPGA history, recorded by Annika Sorenstam in 2001.

Before the 1988 Standard Register Turquoise Classic even began, something historic had already happened: a golfer saved the life of a young boy in the middle of her round. During her qualifying round, Mary Bea Porter jumped the fence of a house that backed up to the golf course to apply CPR to a young boy who had fallen into a swimming pool. She resuscitated the boy and when paramedics arrived, they gave Porter credit for saving his life.

Could even more history be made after that? Of course! You already know the answer: Several days later, on March 27, the LPGA had its first-ever winner from South Korea.

The 1988 Standard Register Turquoise Classic was played at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, which for the tournament was a par-73 playing 6,404 yards long. Ok-Hee Ku opened with a 71, then carded a 68 in the second round. She added a 70 in Round 3 that gave her a two-stroke lead.

In the final round, Ku finished with a 72 for a total score of 11-under 281. That left her the champion by one stroke over the runners-up, two LPGA stars, Dottie Pepper (then playing as Dottie Mochrie) and Ayako Okamoto. She sailed her approach over the green on the 18th hole, then chipped up. Ku won by making an uphill, 12-foot par putt.

Newspaper articles in America credited Ku with 16 wins in Korea, but the Korean tour that existed at the time was not considered a top-tier tour like it is today. Much more impressive on the resume Ku had at the time was her then-total of four wins on the LPGA of Japan Tour, and the fact that she had been the JLPGA Rookie of the Year in 1985.

Ku was 31 years old at the time. One article noted that she "dominated the 1985 Korean and Japanese tours before joining the American circuit." She had finished 29th on the LPGA money list in 1986 and 35th in 1987.

And no big deal was made about the fact she was the first Korean winner in LPGA history. Fact is, the LPGA Tour simply didn't get much media coverage in that era, outside of its biggest stars and biggest tournaments. Few newspaper articles we found even mentioned that Ku was the first LPGA winner from South Korea, and the LPGA's own 1989 media guide didn't mention it, either, in its profile of Ku.

It was another 10 years before Se Ri Pak electrified the golf world by winning two majors on the LPGA Tour in 1998, at the age of 20. Pak went on to a Hall of Fame career, and her victories in 1998 opened the floodgate to a steady stream of Korean golfers who came to America to play — and win — on the LPGA Tour.

And Ok-Hee Ku? She never won again on the LPGA Tour, but did finish her career with nearly 20 JLPGA victories, the last not until 2005.

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