Ok-Hee Ku: First Korean Women's Golf Star

Ok-Hee Ku was the first star on the LPGA of Korea Tour (KLPGA) during that tour's earliest years. She then became the first Korean to win on the LPGA of Japan Tour (JLPGA), and also the first golfer from South Korea to win on the American LPGA Tour.

Date of birth: August 1, 1956

Place of birth: Seoul, South Korea

Date and place of death: July 10, 2013 in Shizuoka, Japan

Nickname: On the LPGA Tour, she was called "Cookie"

Ku's Biggest Wins

Ku had only the one win on the LPGA Tour:
  • 1988 Standard Register Turquoise Classic
Ku had 20 career wins on the Korean LPGA, plus 23 career wins on the LPGA of Japan Tour. Her 23 JLPGA wins include the following JLPGA majors:
  • 1991 JLPGA Meiji Dairies Cup
  • 1992 Japan LPGA Championship
  • 2002 Japan LPGA Championship Konica Cup
The full list of Ku's Japan Tour wins appears at the bottom of this article.

In the Majors

Ku had two Top 10 finishes in LPGA major championships. She tied for ninth in the 1988 du Maurier Classic, and was solo 10th in the 1991 Nabisco Dinah Shore. Her best finish in the Women's PGA Championship (called the LPGA Championship in Ku's day) was tied for 12th in 1986. The same year she had her best finish in the U.S. Women's Open, tying for 14th.

More About Ok-Hee Ku

When Ok-Hee Ku was in her late teens, in the early 1970s, she began working as a caddie at a golf club near Seoul, South Korea. At that time, the KLPGA Tour did not yet exist, and professional women golfers were virtually non-existent in South Korea.

But Ku enjoyed watching the game as a caddie, so she decided to start playing golf, too. She progressed rapidly, and so did women's golf in Korea: By the late 1970s, the KLPGA was founded. Ku turned pro in 1978 and joined the very young circuit.

The KLPGA staged only a handful of tournaments each year in those early years, and Ku was the dominant player — the first woman to become a star in Korean golf. For example, in 1980, the KLPGA held only five tournaments. Ku won all five, setting a record for most wins in a season on the KLPGA that wasn't broken until 2007.

In Asia, then as now, the biggest opportunities for women golfers were in Japan. Ku first played on the Japan Tour in 1983, and joined the JLPGA full-time in 1984. That year she became the first Korean golfer to win on the JLPGA. In 1985, Ku won the JLPGA's Rookie of the Year Award, as well as the Japan Professional Sports New Artist Award.

That success spurred her to aim at the highest tour in women's golf, the LPGA Tour in the United States. She made it through Q-School at the end of 1985, and 1986 was her rookie year. In the year she turned 30, Ku finished third in the LPGA Rookie of the Year race behind Jody Rosenthal and Deb Richard.

Her best year on the LPGA Tour was 1988. That's the year she became the first Korean golfer to win on the LPGA, 10 years before Se Ri Pak's 1998 breakout season. It happened in Phoenix at the Standard Register Turquoise Classic, where Ku took a 2-stroke lead into the final round, then made a 12-foot par-saving putt on the final hole to win.

In addition to that trail-blazing victory, Ku twice finished second on the LPGA in 1988 — at the LPGA Corning Classic and at the Safeco Classic. She finished 13th on the season-ending money list, her best showing on the LPGA.

Ku spent the late 1980s and early 1990s concentrating on the LPGA, although she continued to make a handful of JLPGA starts each year, too. She never won again in America, and in 1993 returned full-time to the JLPGA.

She had finished third on the JLPGA money list in 1985, and upon her return picked right up where she left off. Ku had Top 10 money list finishes on the JLPGA in 1996-2000, plus 2002 and 2003. Those included second place in 1997 and 1999, third place in 1998 and 2000, fourth in 2003. She led the JLPGA in scoring average in 1999.

Ku's performance began dropping off in her late 40s, beginning in 2004 when she slid to 47th on the JLPGA money list. She continued playing a full schedule through 2006, when she turned 50 years old, and at that time Ku ranked in the Top 5 all-time in JLPGA career earnings. She last appeared in a JLPGA tournament in 2012.

For her career, Ku had the one win on the LPGA Tour, 23 wins on the Japan Tour and 20 wins on the Korean LPGA.

She served as president of the KLPGA in 2011 and 2012. Ku was only 56 years old when she died of a heart attack in her home next to a golf course in Shizuoka, Japan, in 2013.

When the KLPGA created its Hall of Fame in the early 2000s, Ku was the very first player inducted, in a class by herself. Se Ri Pak was the second, the following year.

Ku's JLPGA Victories

  • 1985 Kibun Ladies Classic
  • 1985 Tohato Ladies
  • 1985 Tohoku Queens
  • 1987 Tokai Classic
  • 1990 Ben Hogan & Itsuki Classic
  • 1991 SAZALE Queens
  • 1991 JLPGA Meiji Dairies Cup
  • 1992 Japan LPGA Championship
  • 1993 Karasumajo & Itsuki Classic
  • 1996 Toyo Suisan Ladies Hokkaido
  • 1996 Daio Paper Elleair Women's Open
  • 1997 Dunlop Twin Lakes Ladies Open
  • 1997 Daio Paper Elleair Women's Open
  • 1998 Chukyo TV Bridgestone Ladies Open
  • 1999 Nasuogawa Ladies
  • 1999 Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Women's Open
  • 2000 Miyagi TV Cup Dunlop Women's Open
  • 2000 Itoen Ladies
  • 2000 Daio Paper Elleair Ladies Open
  • 2002 Fujisankei Ladies Classic
  • 2002 Japan LPGA Championship Konica Cup
  • 2003 Vernal Ladies
  • 2005 APiTa Circle K Sunkus Ladies

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