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.
“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.