You have to go back to the late 1950's to trace the Asian professional golfers that started to make an impact in international golf.
In 1957 Japan won the Canada Cup (Now World Cup) taking team and individual honors Representing Japan was Torakichi "Pete" Nakamura and Koichi Ono and their win helped spur a golf boom in Japan and Asia.
Nakamura who won the individual honors at the Canada Cup was the first Japanese golfer to be invited and play in the US Masters in 1958 and finished 41st.
He had the reputation of possessing the best short game of the period and his peers called him "Putting God". There are stories that he would line up his bunker shots as he was so accurate and even impressed a young Gary Player who still today rates him as one the the best bunker players in the history of the game.
Japan led the way in Asia with players like Hideyo Sugimoto, Takaaki Kono, Haruo Yasuda winning in Japan and the Asian Tour. All three played in "Majors" with Kono's T12th at the US Masters as the best result.
In the early 1970's a young strong ex baseball player by the name of Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki came on the scene and took the Asian Tour by storm. The Japanese Tour was formed in 1973 and was the perfect launching pad for his career.
He won 94 times on the Japanese Tour which is 40 tournaments more than second most wins on Tour! Although he did not play much outside of Japan throughout his career he maintained a top 10 World Ranking for over 200 consecutive weeks in his prime.
Ozaki was followed by Isao Aoki who is in second place on number of wins on the Japanese Tour with 51 victories. Aoki was the first Asian to win on the US PGA Tour when he won the 1983 Hawaiian Open.
Mind you in 1980 he pushed Jack Nicklaus in the US Open at Baltusrol Golf Club and Jack had to tie the tournament record to beat Aoki into second place, which until Y.E. Yangs USPGA win in 2009 was the best finish by an Asian in a major championship.
When the Asian Tour was launched in 1960 the careers of many Asian professional who didn't have the opportunity to play outside their countries were given a boost.
Countries like the Philippines and Taiwan where there was a strong American influence and golf was a popular game. Most of the best golfers in these countries started in the game as caddies and then graduated to playing golf professionally.
In the Philippines the leading players Celestino Tugot and Ben Arda were already accomplished professionals and they continued to win their National Open's and Arda nearly every other National Open on the Asian Tour. Arda not very big in stature but a fierce competitor and super popular with the galleries with his straight hitting and exceptional recovery skills around the greens.
Taiwan these days have some good professionals competing but in the 1960's and 1970's was their golden years and they were always the ones to beat on the Asian Tour. The man who lead them was Chen Ching Po. He played in the 1956 British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club finishing T33rd and played in six US Masters from 1963 to 1968.
His ball stiking was of a very high standard and was refered to as the "Asian Ben Hogan" and he wore the same style of cap as Hogan did. Being the father figure of professional golf in Taiwan he was affectionally known as Pappa Chen.
The Taiwanese professional that followed him were some of the best to come out of Asia. Lu Lian Huan, Hsieh Yung Yo, Hsieh Min Nan, Hsu Chi San, Hsu Seng San, Chen Tze Chung who combined have won over 50 Asian Tour events! This does not include tournaments won on the Japanese Tour.
Lu Lian Huan or Mr Lu as he was popularly known as at the 1971 British Open held at Royal Birkdale came up one shot short of tying Lee Trevino for the Claret Jug. The best an Asian professional had done up to that point in a Major.
Hsieh Yung Yo won 17 National Opens on the Asian Tour which I believe is still a record.
Hsieh Min Nan has a unique record which no other golfer has achieved. He was individual winner at the 1964 World Amateur in in Rome and leading professional at the 1972 World Cup in Melbourne. Technically he was as good as it gets and is still competing on the Asian Tour in his sixties and still competitive against the young professionals.
Chen Tze Chung was the first Taiwanese to earn a US PGA Tour card in 1982 and also the 1st to win on that tour winning the Los Angeles Open in 1987.
But he is best known for double hitting a chip resulting in a quadruple bogey in the final round of the 1985 US Open when leading. He finally finished one shot shy to Andy North the eventual winner.
There were many other professionals for other Asian countries that put their mark in international golf by winning on tour. Hang Chang Sang from South Korea, Sukree Oncham from Thailand, Mya Aye from Myanmar to name a few.
All the professional named above were truly trail blazers that set the standard for the rest to follow and improve on. There is no doubt the present day professionals from Asia are achieving great things in world golf but they have a lot to be thankful to those few now old professional that set the pathway for them.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College
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