CHARLESTON, S.C. — Japan's Mamiko Higa has a chance to make some history at this week's U.S. Women's Open, in addition to the history she's already made. On Thursday, she carded the lowest round ever by a player making her U.S. Women's Open debut, a bogey-free 65 that gave her the solo lead. She backed it up Friday by grinding out an even-par 71 and retaining her solo lead by one stroke over Jessica Korda. Were she to go on to win this weekend at Country Club of Charleston, she'd be just the second major championship winner from Japan in LPGA history, the first being Hisako Higuchi at the 1977 LPGA Championship (now known as the KPMG Women's PGA). No male player from Japan has ever won a major.
And yet, a victory for Higa may still not be enough to earn the crown as best athlete in her own family.
That's because Higa, 25, is married to world-class sumo wrestler Ikioi Shōta. Well, depending on what you read, the two are either married or engaged. Their story first came to light last summer, when Higa was in contention at the Ricoh Women's British Open. Shōta was in the gallery that week at Royal Lytham and St. Annes in England, and they were reportedly set to be married last fall on their shared birthday of Oct. 11. They first met at one of Shōta's matches in 2015, and he later bought her a $100,000 engagement ring:
Higa, who wound up finishing in a tie for fourth at the Women's British Open, is back in contention at a major championship once again in Charleston. On Thursday, following her stellar 65, she was asked about her husband and whether or not he was here this week. "I just communicate with him just as usual," Higa said through a translator. "Nothing special. Just chatting every day."
Many reports still have the pair as engaged rather than married, though Higa did not correct the reporter who referred to Shōta as her husband. Whichever it is, it's safe to call them one of the best literal power couples in all of professional sports (Shōta checks in at 6-foot-4, 380 pounds). Judging by the Japanese media coverage Higa has received this week, it's clear they are one of the biggest celebrity couples in their country. A win for Higa would only garner more attention for the duo, and it may even make her the most well-known athlete in the family.