UCLA junior Tiffany Joh is the queen of downplay, but as the NCAA postseason gets under way there's no understating her abundant talent
There are things Tiffany Joh will try to have you believe if you let the 21-year-old UCLA junior bend your ear. Like how she's the worst college golfer in the country.
OK, maybe not the worst, but definitely not as good as Amanda Blumenherst at Duke or Stacy Lewis at Arkansas or even fellow Bruin Maria Jose Uribe, the U.S. Women's Amateur champion. I mean come on, don't you know how awesome they are and how Joh is "just lucky to get the ball off the ground" some days?
When the conversation ends, though, do yourself a favor. Check out the UCLA women's golf website. You will find Joh actually has a tidy 72.0 average in nine tournaments this season, seven top-eight finishes and nothing worse than a T-13. You'll also learn the San Diego native was just named Pac-10 player of the year and is on the U.S. Curtis Cup team competing at St. Andrews later this month.
After that, you can talk to Joh's college coach, Carrie Forsyth, to clarify this getting-the-ball-airborne problem. "Her ball striking has always been exceptional," contends the nine-year Bruin skipper and former national coach of the year. "She's one of the best collegiate ball-strikers I've ever seen."
According to Derek Uyeda, a teaching professional at San Diego's Stadium Golf Center and Joh's instructor since high school, her swing actually is the model he uses for every player he instructs, male or female. "She will never say this," Uyeda explains, "but she has complete control of her golf ball."
The fact is, no one who follows the college game would be surprised to see Joh contend at this week's NCAA Central Regional in Texas. And if third-ranked UCLA advances, as expected, to the NCAA Championship at the University of New Mexico GC in Albuquerque in two weeks, the same will be true there.
So what's with all the humility?
"That's just Tiff," Uyeda says. "I think it's something to lull her competitors to sleep. She doesn't want you to know that she practices hard, that she grinds out there, that she really cares."
When Joh is on the range with Uyeda, he says he sometimes has her rate her shots. "I'm looking at the ball flight and they're just pure and she's doing it over and over again," Uyeda says. "But she'll never say, 'That was perfect.' Not even to me."
"I don't think it's modesty," Joh insists. "It's a fact that any given person out there isn't going to hit it great all the time. I'm the same way."
If Joh is college golf's version of the girl who cried wolf, she is also the most likable liar you will ever meet. Finding a college golfer more friendly or personable than the 5-foot-5 dynamo is a struggle. "She's the funniest person I've ever met in my life," says Blumenherst, who has known Joh since their junior golf days.
"I'm just a dork," Joh says, "kind of loud and obnoxious, really."
Indeed, the self-deprecation extends off the course, too, as Joh claims to have no talents. Never mind she can speak multiple languages (including sign), is a skilled pianist and regularly appears on the UCLA honor roll.
Unlike many Korean-American girls who play golf in Southern California, Joh wasn't steered toward the game by her family. Her parents -- Dad is a financial accounting professor at San Diego State, Mom runs a tutoring program -- and older brother had no interest in the sport. But the Johs' backyard faced the CC of Rancho Bernardo, which prompted a curious Tiffany to often wander on the course (to the chagrin of the course marshals) before finally trying the game at age 12.