Higuchi dominated Japanese golf from 1968 to 1980, winning the JLPGA championship nine times and Japanese Women’s Open four times. But her most important victories were abroad. She won the Women’s Australian Open in 1974, the Colgate European Women’s Open in 1976 and, in her finest moment, the 1977 LPGA Championship, a victory which prompted a ticker-tape parade in Tokyo. Indeed, she remains the only Japanese player ever to win a major championship on either the PGA or LPGA Tours.
At the LPGA in Myrtle Beach, Higuchi remembers being nervous after being tied for the lead after three rounds. “I thought I would not win,” she said. “But by then, I was very consistent, and I hardly ever missed a fairway. On the final day, I played my best golf.” With a closing 69 built on three consecutive back-nine birdies, she won by three strokes.
“Chako was very well liked, and a wonderful player,” says Judy Rankin. “She had beautiful tempo and great balance. You never thought of Chako hitting a wild shot. On the other hand, if you made a mistake, she would be there.”
Higuchi was born in Tokyo in 1945, the sixth of six children. She was a school-girl champion in track and field whose best-event was the 80-yard hurdles. At 16, she began playing golf after her sister became a locker-room attendant at a local course. It led her to become the caddie for teaching professional Torakichi Nakamura, who had won the individual title at the 1957 Canada Cup. “He taught me the game physically and mentally,” Higuchi told writer Liz Kahn. “He made me run every morning and hit 1,000 balls a day until I cried.”
The 5-6, slightly built Higuchi developed a swing that was distinguished by a sway so pronounced she actually lost sight of the ball at the top of her backswing. She was embarrassed when she first went to America and saw that the stars had much more orthodox swings. But Hall of Fame member Henry Cotton, who saw her win the Colgate at Sunningdale in England, said it was an effective method for a small woman to use.