By Ward Clayton
Following in the footsteps of legends is a difficult task. But that's what Japanese LPGA stars Momoko Ueda, Ai Miyazato and Mika Miyazato are doing as the Mizuno Classic begins in Japan.
World Golf Hall of Famers Chako Higuchi and Ayako Okamoto were the first successful Asian women golfers in the 1960s and 1970s and built the road for a plethora of Asian golfers to dominate today's LPGA. Higuchi's 1977 LPGA Championship victory, which resulted in a ticker-tape parade in Tokyo, remains the only major championship title won by a Japanese player on either the LPGA or PGA Tour. When Okamoto was named the Player of the Year on the LPGA in 1987, she became the first non-American to capture that award.
Ueda, 26, has made her LPGA career on two victories in this week's Mizuno Classic. She rode a final-round double eagle to the 2007 title, her first on the LPGA. Last year, she beat China's Shanshan Feng with a birdie on the third playoff hole to become the first Japanese woman to win the Mizuno title twice. Ueda remains the youngest player, at age 21 in 2007, to lead the Japan LPGA in earnings.
Mika Miyazato, 23, is finishing up her best season as a professional. The LPGA's Driving Accuracy leader (86 percent) won her first LPGA title at the Safeway Classic in Oregon in August. She has three finishes no worse than a T7 in three major championships, has nine top-10 finishes and has won $1,081,534, nearly double her previous best season.
Ai Miyazato, 27, is not in this week's field but has won twice this season, at the LPGA LOTTE Championship and the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, to total nine career wins. She has earned nearly $7 million in her career, and at 19th on the LPGA career money list ranks higher than any other Japanese women's golfer.
Will Shanshan Feng defend her title?