Even prior to watching Tiffany Joh claim her second U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links title this past weekend at Erin Hills GC outside Milwaukee, I had spent a fair amount of time following the 21-year-old from San Diego this spring. I wrote a profile on her for Golf World as a preview to the NCAA Women's Championship, which became happily prescient when Joh nearly won the individual title at the University of New Mexico GC. In that story, as in nearly anything you ever read or hear about Joh, you see how self-deprecating she is regarding her game. With the possible exception of 2006 U.S. Women's Amateur champion Kimberly Kim, there isn't any other current amateur golfer, male or female, who downplays her own talents as much as Joh.
The reason I bring this up is that I had some friendly discussions with a few people last week while watching Joh beat__Jennifer Song__, 2 and 1, to win the WAPL, about whether Joh's humility is actually a detriment to her game and her development. If Joh wasn't so distrustful of her game, could she be even more successful? You can make an argument that given all Joh's talent--they don't name you to the U.S. Curtis Cup team unless you've got some skill--she likely should have more than the two college wins she's earned in her first three years at UCLA.
My take, though, is that Joh is much more competitive than she lets on, and that the indifference she displays at times is actually a defense mechanism. Joh shows genuine sadness and disappointment when she doesn't win--more than a few tears flowed at nationals when she lost a playoff to Arizona State's__Azahara Munoz__--a sign that indeed things mean more to her than you would otherwise believe. Joh's swing coach back at Stadium Golf Center in San Diego,Derek Uyeda, told me a story earlier this year about Joh that helped put any doubts that he had about her competitiveness:
"I caddied for her in the local qualifying for the U.S. Open [a couple year ago]," Uyeda said. "She had shot 69 and she lost by one ... she didn't medal. She was upset because there was a girl and she was like, 'I can't believe that girl beat me.' I said, 'Tif, you never act like you're going to tear somebody's heart out while you're competing. Maybe we need to work on the attitude more and get you a little bit more like go for the throat. Kick them when they're down, I just want to bury you.' And she's like, 'Oh, no. I feel like that. Trust me.' We've never had a conversation about that ever since. She's a huge competitor, and I think that's a big motivating factor of why she's so good. ... Deep down inside she knows she could be one of the top five players in the world."
Surprisingly, Joh didn't qualify for this week's U.S. Women's Open--and even more surprisingly, the WAPL champion doesn't earn an automatic exemption into the Women's Open. So instead, Joh is back in Los Angeles, starting summer school. By taking classes the next few months (her only golf tournament will be the U.S. Women's Amateur), it allows her to only have to take one class during the final semester of her senior year, when she'll be trying to avenge the playoff loss to Munoz__ __and help the Bruins claim the team title.
I think this tells you all you need to know about how competitive Joh really is.