Tiffany Joh’s Friend-Filled Odyssey Is A Life In Full

It comes as no surprise that Tiffany Joh would like unicorns. In a metaphorical sense, she is one.

The 33-year-old from San Diego has been on the LPGA Tour since 2011 and won twice on the Symetra Tour before that, making her one of the best and most lasting players in today’s game. Besides golf, Joh can also play guitar, compose music, sing, surf, write comedies, down burritos bigger than Dwayne The Rock’s French Toast stack...oh, and she beat cancer as well. 

She also recently helped Major winner Morgan Pressel raise nearly $80,000 to support the LPGA*USGA Girls Golf Renee Powell Grant, which provides grants for Girls Golf programs serving African American communities.

We can try and come up with words to describe her: multifaceted, renaissance, genius? But nothing does her justice quite like unicorn does. 

Joh 1Though she’s accrued many fans through her presence on the LPGA stage, her 380 YouTube subscribers and 13,000 Twitter followers laud her abilities to remix popular songs with her signature touch. 

On her most viral golf parody, “Grip It,” which got over 101,760 views, one YouTube fan commented “Love, love love! TJoh does it again. The production is getting more refined and (Ben) Crane and the (Golf Boyz) just can't touch this. I didn't know LPGA got women with such funky moves…More funk Tiff, bring us more funk! Perhaps you can write a song for the Solheim Team?”

The fan’s comment gets at something, though, especially with the word, “production.” Typically, when one hears production, they think of a show, which includes everything from lights to multiple cameras, to audio to booking guests. It could include dozens or even hundreds of people, everyone from directors to staff writers who come up with organic, comical content. 

Not so with Tiff Joh. It’s just her. 

Again, only what unicorns could do. 

The funny thing about most of what she creates is that it comes instinctively. There are no long sessions where she muses over content. Many of her best creations (and funniest responses) came within minutes or seconds of the idea popping into her brain. That is why she is so eager to dismiss the “genius” label. Those who have the gift, don’t realize how special it is. 

Lately, quarantined inside her Southern California home, Joh has been catching some waves, listening to podcasts, and hanging with friends (virtually, of course) all while rocking her unicorn onesie, one of many quirky one-piece outfits (or costumes, depending on your perspective) that she wears as casually as anyone else might throw on a sweater.  

That doesn’t make her any less creative. Another of her more popular online creations is a series of “QuaranTunes” that she created with her friend and former LPGA Tour player Jeehae Lee. Though hundreds of miles apart, the two harmonized on some hilarious rewrites of popular tunes such as “Tryna Shallow,” a bit worthy of any late-night comedy show.  

Joh 2She calls her best friend often, fellow LPGA Tour player Jane Park who is expecting her first child in September with husband, LPGA Tour caddie Pete Godfrey. During quarantine, Park has kept her game up to par while nourishing her baby with Honey Nut Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Joh and Park feed off each other, not dissimilar to real-life best friends Amy Poehler and Tina Fey or Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The banter is tinged with insults cushioned in with love. 

An ongoing joke between the two has been Joh’s proposition that she live in Park’s attic once they’re older. Even with Park’s son on his way, Joh defiantly says she’s okay with being the “weird aunt who lives in the attic and eats all the food.” 

The two first met when they were 16, competing in junior golf leagues along the West coast. Joh jokes that she had been rapping to Missy Elliot on the putting green when Jane, according to Joh, said to herself “‘I gotta get to know that girl.’”

Whereas Park got into the game by following her older brother to their local course outside Chicago and eventually beating him along with the rest of her the kids in her town, Joh picked up the sport through her community’s free golf program. Both were raised by parents who had immigrated from South Korea.

Despite similar backgrounds, Park and Joh can’t stress enough how different their upbringings were.

Tiff Joh “I think from my experience, I had a pretty strict upbringing with golf and with my dad as my coach,” Park said. “We were kind of on par to becoming one of those Asian prodigies. But growing up in America and going to school with maybe one other Asian at school, I never really identified as a Korean person. In terms of the Korean work ethic, I did have it when I was younger, but you can easily get burned out. I got burned out more than 10 times in my career where I said ‘I’m quitting. I don’t want to play this (game) anymore,’ but I think growing up in America as a Korean playing a sport like golf where Asian girls are so dominant, I feel like maybe I disappointed my parents...but I’m happy.”

Jane Park

July 08, 2020

Her voice trailed off into a courteous laugh, perhaps a defense mechanism but also some positive self-talk. She is proud of herself. And she has every right to be. Since her days as a stellar amateur, winning the Women’s Amateur Championship in 2004 to now, consistently placing within the top of recent leaderboards--the most recent being tied for 25th at the Women’s Australian Open in February--Park, who now lives in a northern suburban of Atlanta, has not once given up.

Joh grew up in San Diego where she picked up the sport more as a hobby. Being introduced to golf without the weight of her parents’ expectations enabled her to excel.  

“Even though my parents immigrated from South Korea, they were very adamant about giving me the American experience,” Joh said. “So, I wasn’t brought up in a really strict environment. My parents didn’t even have an interest in golf. I learned how to play from a local free golf program. That’s where I really fell in love with the game. I consider myself really fortunate because I don’t feel like I’ve ever been burned out because I 100-percent feel like the pressure and motivation has come from my end.”

Although Joh may not have experienced what many Asian Americans label as a stereotypical upbringing - the kind of intense cultural difference illustrated in Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” - the 10-year LPGA Tour veteran realized how different her life had been when she started playing the game professionally. 

“It wasn’t until I got on Tour, which was the first time I was surrounded by people who looked like me, that I think it gave me a lot of exposure to (Korean) culture,” Joh said. “Now, I have so much appreciation for (my heritage) and am so grateful to be surrounded by all of these super talented and awesome South Koreans that are so likable and have so much personality.” 

Joh’s upbringing ultimately saved her life, though. Sure, she could have benefitted from getting to know her Korean heritage starting at an earlier age, but the old saying that blood is thicker than water holds true. The golf star could always learn Korean customs. She could not, however, have picked up the American hobbies such as her beloved surfing if not raised the way she was. 

Joh 3“I was actually surfing at my home’s shores when I ran into a friend of mine,” Joh said. “We started talking and I had no idea that she was going through Melanoma herself when she revealed she had to get surgery. Jane and Marina Alex and a couple of other girls on Tour will tell you this, but I had developed a nervous tick over the last few years before my diagnosis where I’d touch a spot on my scalp and do a sort of comb over with my bangs. And at the time, she’s telling me the story and I’m doing the nervous tick over my head while being worried for her. And all of a sudden, it sort of registered and I literally made a dermatologist appointment the next day. As she checked my scalp, she said, ‘I don’t know how you found this. Scalp Melanomas are especially lethal because people never find them in time.”

Treatment began immediately. Joh took time off from competition and everything else to focus on her health. By February 2017, she was cancer free and ready to start playing again. And, of course, to share her jokes with the world. 

Marina Alex, Jane Park and Tiffany Joh of the United States joke as they pose for a photo in front of Ailsa Craig during a practice round (Getty Images)

There to support her comeback was none other than her best friend of 14 years—Park, who, according to Joh, was more excited about the hole-in-one Joh had made at her first tournament back after being a patient.

“I made the hole in one at the Arizona event and I was actually paired with Jane that day, who was more excited than I was,” Joh said as she explains how she’s been able to win two free laptops from ACER. The first, after making a hole-in-one at the 2017 Founder’s Cup and the second, after dominating in the recent LPGA E-Tour series. 

“It was after I beat Melanoma cancer and it was so funny because when I made the shot, I was obviously happy about it, but nothing compared to Jane. Jane was doing cartwheels down the fairway onto the green high-fiving all the volunteers. It was so typical of Jane to take over something like that.”

“I was just so happy, almost in tears. And I was like ‘THAT’S MY FRIEND. SHE MADE A HOLE IN ONE,’” Park cried. 

The comedic front is the side of both players most fans are used to seeing. And they aren’t bashful about sharing their life hiccups, such as the time Joh received one of her worst grades in college thanks to Park who consistently asked her teammate to go to the Olive Garden on the way to the lecture hall for breadsticks and salad.  

Yet, at the end of the day, the two friends are also serious athletes. Both are aware of haters who might criticize them for not being more like major goals-setter Justin Thomas who sets perennial goals for himself. But at the same time, what they’ve done is what’s worked for them. It’s what has made each golfer a star in her own right and what feeds fans’ hunger for more of their ingenious, downright laugh our heads off content.  

“Tiff and I’ve both worked with this short game coach (Gareth Raflewski) and he is a big advocate of being a little better day by day,” Park said. “Little by little. And I really like that because it’s not so overwhelming--if I think ‘OK, I’m going to go do this short game drill for 30 minutes today and feel like I really got it down then maybe I can turn it into tournament play tomorrow. I think of success as little victories. Little daily victories.”

Joh added: “Gareth has a psychology background and when we talked to him, I told him how I’ve always done little different things and how I don’t focus too well on one thing and that’s why when I do practice sessions, I have to break them up. I think at one point last year I told him ‘I wish I had more of a one-track mind where I could just sit down and focus on golf because I think I would be better at it and I would achieve more.’ His explanation was ‘You’re not good at what you do despite of what you do. You’re good because of what you do and how you do it.’”

Joh 4