Golf may seem a deceptively easy sport to play, but that isn’t the case. While the thrill of putting club to ball for the first time is one that stays on forever for a casual golfer, the route is different for champions, including the best and most famous Asian golfers of all time.
What sets apart these top Asian golfers, like their elk elsewhere, is the ability to combine the joy of learning while getting uncomfortable in the bid to become the best in their vocation.
The greatest of golfers often discover themselves in their lowest moments on the golf course and famous Asian golfers are not an exception. While coping with disappointment, they embrace the learnings and continue with their journey of being the best in what they do.
The growth of golf in Asia has meant the continent has contributed to the global landscape by throwing up famous names, male and female, who have stood out over the ages with their zeal for excellence.
Like their global counterparts, the best Asian golfers of all time like Isao Aoki, Shanshan Feng and Hideki Matsuyama have had different journeys but are bound by traits that have seen them touch the pinnacle of world golf.
Keeping a level head ranks above everything else. Getting bogged down by a bad shot or getting ahead of oneself after a fabulous tee shot is not for these champions. They are bound by unflinching self-belief, ability to focus and commitment to keep giving their best week in-week out irrespective of the outcome.
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Here is our list of 12 best Asian golfers of all time who have brought joy to millions across the world with their unwavering quest for excellence.
Meet the best and most famous Asian golfers of all time
1. Torakichi “Pete” Nakamura (Japan)
Celebrated as the “Putting God”, Torakichi Nakamura is one of the most famous Asian golfers of the 20th century. In 1957, Nakamura partnered compatriot Koichi Ono to win the prestigious Canada Cup (precursor to the World Cup of Golf). He went on to claim the individual championship at the Kasumigaseki Country Club as well. Nakamura’s performance and success in international competitions became a source of pride for Japan after World War II. His achievements spurred a boom in golf in Japan and Asia. Thanks to Nakamura’s enormous contribution to golf, he is remembered as one of the best Asian golfers in history.
2. Isao Aoki (Japan)
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One of the most notable and famous Asian golfers in history, Isao Aoki was the first Japanese man to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004. Known for his smooth and fluid swing, and extraordinary putting skills, Aoki was popularly referred to as “the cool cat” for his calm demeanour on the golf course. Aoki was also the first Asian to win on the PGA Tour when he was top-seeded in the 1983 Hawaiian Open. With a successful career that covered 51 wins worldwide, Aoki was a true ambassador for golf in Japan. Even after his retirement, he remained involved in the sport as a golf course designer and commentator.
3. Yang Yong-Eun (South Korea)
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Popularly called the “Son of the Wind” by the Korean media, Yang Yong-Eun is a role model for young Koreans after he became the first Asian-born player to win a men’s Major championship. Well known as “YE Yang” in the US, Yang stunned Tiger Woods to win the 2009 PGA Championship at the Hazeltine National Golf Club, Minnesota. Some of his pro achievements include two PGA Tour wins, three European Tour wins, five Japan Golf Tour wins, three Korean Tour wins, and many more.
4. Hideki Matsuyama (Japan)
Hideki Matsuyama is the first Japanese pro to win a men’s Major – the 2021 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. At 31, Matsuyama already has 17 worldwide wins and eight career top-10 finishes in Majors, making him the most decorated Japanese pro golfer of our time. Likewise, his eight wins on the PGA Tour make him the most successful Japanese member of the PGA Tour in history.
5. Hisako “Chako” Higuchi (Japan)
A top name among the female Asian golf players, Hisako Higuchi is known for her long winning streak on the Japanese tour. In the 1977 LPGA Championship (Women’s PGA Championship), Higuchi was not only the first Japanese to win an LPGA Major but the first golfer from Asia to win a Major, women’s or men’s. Higuchi is one of the founding members of the Japan LPGA (JLPGA) Tour, which came into being in 1968. She has a whopping 69 JLPGA titles to her name. In 2003, Higuchi was the first Japanese golfer to enter the World Golf Hall of Fame.
6. Masashi Ozaki (Japan)
Affectionately known as “Jumbo” for his length off the tee, Ozaki was the second Japanese male pro to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011 after Isao Aoki. A renowned sports icon of Japan, Ozaki holds the unique record of 94 wins on the Japan Golf Tour Organization (JGTO), having led the earnings for a record 12 times. He also recorded top-10 finishes at the British Open, US Open, and Masters.
7. Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand)
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Thongchai Jaidee is the first professional golfer from Thailand to win a European Tour event, at the 2004 Malaysian Open. The acclaimed pro was also the first Thai to play in all four Majors. In 2015, Jaidee became the first Thai golfer to play the Presidents Cup at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Korea. He won the Asian Tour Order of Merit on three occasions and holds the record for the most career earnings on the Asian Tour.
8. KJ Choi (South Korea)
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Choi Kyung-Ju, widely recognised as KJ Choi has won 30 pro events, including eight PGA Tour wins, 16 Korean Tour wins and six Asian Tour wins. His most famous win came during the 2011 Players Championship at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida, and Choi spent 40 weeks in the top 10 Official World Golf Rankings. With more than 20 pro wins, Choi is regarded as Asia’s most successful pro.
9. Si Woo Kim (South Korea)
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Kim Si-woo, aka Si Woo Kim, is a well-known South Korean pro who plays on the PGA Tour. In 2016, Kim’s first win on the PGA Tour came at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina. At 21, Kim became the season’s youngest winner. In 2017, Kim became the second Korean after KJ Choi to win the Players Championship. Kim was the second-lowest-ranked player to win the Players Championship after being ranked 73rd in the world before the tournament.
10. Pak Se-ri (South Korea)
Se Ri Pak or Pak Se-ri, regarded an inspiration for innumerable golfers from South Korea, is a true champion. After outstanding feats as an amateur, Pak turned professional in 1996 and took part in the LPGA of Korea Tour (KLPGA), winning six times. She holds a total of 39 professional wins, including five Major Championships and 25 LPGA Tour titles. In 2007, Pak (at 29) became the youngest living inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
11. Shanshan Feng (China)
Shanshan Feng was the first golfer from China to become a member of the LPGA in 2008. A sensation among female Asian golf players, Feng has 10 wins on Tour, including the 2012 LPGA Championship at Pittsford, New York. Feng was the first golfer from China (male or female) to have won a Major. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Feng won the bronze and became a household name in China.
12. Ryo Ishikawa (Japan)
A superstar who took Japanese golf by storm, Ishikawa turned professional in 2008 at the tender age of 16, becoming the youngest golf pro in the history of Japan. Fondly dubbed as “Hanikami Ōji” (Bashful Prince), Ishikawa has 19 pro wins and has competed in all four Majors. Ishikawa became the youngest pro to feature in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking at the end of 2008. In 2009, Ishikawa rose to his career-best 29th place in the Official World Golf Ranking.
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This story first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Hideki Matsuyama (see main image) is one of the best Asian golfers. By winning the 2021 Masters, Matsuyama made history by becoming the first Japanese man to win a Major. With 17 pro wins, including one Major and eight PGA Tour wins, Matsuyama is the most successful Japanese golfer on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Matsuyama claimed his career-best 2nd on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Answer: Yes, several Asians have in fact won Majors. Yang Yong-eun of South Korea was the first Asian-born player to win a Major in 2009. Hideki Matsuyama from Japan was the first Japanese pro to win a Major in 2021. Meanwhile, Japan's Hisako Higuchi was the first golfer from Asia to win an LPGA in 1977. Other top golfers include Pak Se-ri of South Korea who holds five Major wins, and China's Shanshan Feng — the country's first golfer from China (male or female) to win a Major in 2012.