Museum Moment: Hattori Paved Path For Asian Players

Aug 12, 2010

By David Shefter, USGA

Many feel that Se Ri Pak’s victory at the 1998 U.S. Women’s Open was a seminal moment for not only Koreans, but all Asian golfers. Her playoff triumph over Jenny Chuasiriporn at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., caused an explosion in the game for players in the Asia-Pacific region.

Since then, Asian players, particular those from Korea, have been flocking to the U.S. to display their talents at an incredible rate. One glance at the number of USGA champions of Asian descent since 1998 – particularly on the female side – perfectly illustrates that notion. The names of Aree Song, Inbee Park, Virada Nirapathpongporn, Eun-Hee Ji, Grace Park and Yani Tseng are just a few who have claimed USGA hardware in the last 12 years.

But more than a decade before Pak wrapped her arms around the U.S. Women’s Open trophy, Michiko Hattori, a 16-year-old Japanese prodigy, was making national and international headlines. Twenty-five years ago, Hattori, from Nagoya, Japan, became the first Asian-born USGA champion and the third-youngest – behind Laura Baugh and Beatrix Hoyt – to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, defeating Cheryl Stacy, 5 and 4, in the 36-hole final at Fox Chapel Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pa. That mark was shattered in 2006 by 14-year-old Korean-American Kimberly Kim of Hilo, Hawaii.

Hattori’s 1985 triumph came at a time when few players from Asia were coming to the U.S. for golf. It was long before the establishment of golf academies and USGA competitions consisted mainly of U.S. players.

Certainly there had been a few international champions going back to the pre-World War II days, with Dorothy Campbell of Scotland winning back-to-back U.S. Women’s Amateur crowns in 1909-10 and England’s Gladys Ravenscroft taking the same title in 1913. But in the modern era only a handful of international golfers had claimed USGA titles prior to 1985. France’s Catherine Lacoste won the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1967 and ’68, respectively, and Jan Stephenson of Australia claimed the U.S. Women’s Open in 1983.

In 1984, Hattori, then 15, first showed signs of her greatness when she reached the U.S. Girls’ Junior final before falling to nemesis Cathy Mockett, the same person who defeated Hattori in the second round at the 1985 Girls’ Junior.

Hattori qualified for the 1985 Women’s Amateur by virtue of a top-eight finish at the 1984 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship, where she helped Japan finish fourth at Royal Hong Kong Golf Club. At the U.S. Women’s Amateur, Hattori fired rounds of 80-71 to share qualifying medalist honors with Stacy. The pair would become the third set of co-medalists to meet in a Women’s Amateur final.

What’s interesting was that a playoff was required for the final two match-play spots. And when Hattori saw the words “Playoff No. 1” next to her name, she arrived at the first tee with the 12 playoff participants. A USGA official quickly prompted Hattori that her presence was not required at the playoff.

From there, Hattori, who credited Nancy Lopez for her interest in the game, wasted little time defeating her first two opponents by 5-and-4 scores. She had a little tougher time eliminating Pat Cornett of San Francisco in the round of 16, but prevailed, 2 and 1, after trailing by two holes early in the match.

Kandi Kessler was Hattori’s quarterfinal victim, 3 and 2, and she beat France’s Kim Gardner in the semifinals by that same margin. Stacy, meanwhile, defeated Danielle Ammaccapane in the other semifinal match, 1 up.

In the championship final, the 21-year-old Stacy bogeyed holes 15, 17 and 18 to fall 2 down at the lunch break. Hattori, meanwhile, steadied her game and had just one bogey over the final 19 holes of the match (on the ninth hole of the afternoon round). Still, Stacy hung tough with birdies at the third, sixth, seventh and eighth holes in the afternoon to close within one hole. The two halved the par-5 eighth with birdies, although Stacy missed an eagle putt that would have squared the match.

A Hattori birdie at the 10th increased her lead to 2 up and she parred the next four holes, while Stacy double-bogeyed Nos. 11 and 13, and eventually went down to defeat at the 14th, 5 and 4.

In 1986, Hattori became the first player to earn medalist honors at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year. She would earn medalist honors three consecutive years at the Women’s Amateur (1985-87), but would only claim the ’85 title. She also is the only golfer to have won the U.S., Canadian and Japanese amateur titles, achieving the latter at 14, the youngest ever to do so in her home country’s national championship.

Hattori also led Japan to four consecutive top-five finishes at the Women’s World Amateur Team Championship. She helped Japan win the prestigious Queen Sirikit Cup, a competition between Asian nations, in 1987, collecting individual honors as well. Past winners of that event include current LPGA Tour stars Tseng, Mi Hyun Kim, Hee-Won Han and Jeong Jang.

At the University of Texas, Hattori had a decorated career that included 10 individual titles and twice being named the college player of the year. In 1990, she won the Honda-Broderick Award. Remarkably, she finished in the top 10 in 38 of her 40 collegiate events. She lost the 1989 NCAA Division I individual title in a playoff to Pat Hurst of San Jose State.

Hattori later turned pro and was the Japan LPGA’s Rookie of the Year in 1992. While she never won a pro event in the U.S., she did capture the Japan Women’s Open, the Japan LPGA Championship and two Fujitsu Ladies Open titles.

David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at dshefter@usga.org.

In 1986, Hattori became the first player to earn medalist honors at the U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Women’s Amateur in the same year. (USGA Museum)