She saw it coming as she walked to the first tee. And she knew exactly what to do. Jane Park has arguably the wickedest sense of humor on the LPGA Tour, so when she realized during one of her pro-am rounds that the men waiting for her on the tee didn’t know anything about her, she decided to give them an experience they would never forget.
After slipping under the ropes, Jane went to each member of the group, meekly offered her hand, bowed and uttered the Korean greeting “annyeonghaseyo.” She didn’t say another word the rest of the first hole but watched as the faces of her partners slipped. Then on the second tee, she looked at the group and said, “Hey, you guys want a beer?”
As practical jokes go, it was hard to beat.
But it also typified Jane’s personality and the two worlds she has always balanced with a quick wit and a beaming smile. Born in Chicago to first-generation Korean immigrants and raised primarily in California, Jane lived with the clash in cultures from an early age.
“Growing up, it was difficult because I identified as an American but the Asian part of me never wanted to disrespect or disobey my parents,” she said. “But the American part of me, being educated in the American school system, I was taught things like, think for yourself, make your own decisions, you can be anything you want to be. In Korean culture, no matter how successful you are or how old you get, you always come back to your family.
“Of course, family is everything to Americans, too. But in America, once you reach 18, your parents are like, ‘Okay, you’re an adult, time to get out and make it on your own.’ American parents take great pride in their children becoming independent. But in Korea, the parents want and expect you to come home.”
When it came to carving her own path in life, Jane had some remarkable role models. Her father moved to Philadelphia from South Korea in 1975 with his siblings to create Asian Super, a chain of Korean grocery stores. Not long after, they resettled in Chicago where one store became two, and two became more than a handful.
“That part of my family helped make me,” Jane said. “They funded a lot of my junior golf days. Travel and hotels and entry fees for junior and amateur golf can be incredibly expensive. They helped with that. If it wasn’t for that part of my family, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I owe a lot to them.”
Anyone who saw Jane at the events held in Chicago, like the 2017 and 2018 KPMG Women’s PGA Championships, appreciate how that part of her family feels about her. She looked like the Pied Piper of Chicagoland those weeks with a trail of nieces and nephews scampering after her, whooping and cheering her every shot.
She hopes that someday her own daughter, Grace Godfrey, born last year, will get a chance to do likewise.
“I’m going to sit out (the U.S. Women’s Open) this year because it’s Grace’s 9-month appointment and her pediatrician is in Atlanta,” Jane said. “So, if I miss some events this year, I’m not too bummed because she’s only a baby once in her life. It definitely puts things into perspective.”
It also brings back a flood of memories. When Jane was a young teenager, after the family had relocated to California, she would go with her mom to the mall to study the latest women’s fashion trends.
“My mom got into the fashion industry in downtown Los Angeles where she designed and made clothing for many years,” Jane said. “When I was like 12 or 13, we’d always go to Windsor and Bloomingdales to scope out current fashion trends. She designed and made business and business casual outfits for women, wholesale items. It was cool to see my mom do her own thing and be successful at it. She did really well for herself.”
Jane’s maternal grandmother helped raise her and was her biggest fan early in her junior golf days.
“Before my grandmother passed away when I was 15, I would tell her that I’m going to turn pro, travel the world and you’re going to come with me,” she said. And Jane did just that, becoming one of the most accomplished amateurs in the world, winning the U.S. Women’s Amateur while still in high school and playing on two Curtis Cup teams. After a year at UCLA, she joined the LPGA Tour where she has, indeed, traveled the world and played nonstop for 14 years.
“I’m living the American dream,” Jane said. “My mom has retired and she’s looking after my little baby and having the time of her life.”
Jane and her husband, Pete Godfrey, a former English professional who now caddies on the LPGA Tour for Ariya Jutanugarn, live in a northern suburb of Atlanta where Jane is an informal restaurant critic and the go-to foodie for all her friends. She speaks glowingly about her experiences in the game and lovingly about her family. Even the few instances of racial ignorance she has encountered have been innocent and some ways so ridiculous as to be funny. About five years ago, as she laughed at a joke, one of her pro-am partners asked her if she could see out of her eyes when she squinted. “It came from a place of honest curiosity,” Jane said. “So, I said, ‘No, I can see fine.’ He was not trying to be rude. And I was nice about it. If I can educate someone, then I’ll take that opportunity.”
Another time, a pro-am partner once asked her if she was related to all the Parks on Tour. “No,” Jane said, “It’s just a very common surname, like Smith or Jones over here.”
“If I can enlighten someone and use it as an educational opportunity, I’m excited to happy to do that,” she said.
Life if pretty good for Jane Park. Her mother and aunts help with Grace when she’s on the west coast and she has more friends at home and on Tour than she can count. She and Michelle Wie West have been close since their amateur days when they were Curtis Cup teammates. And now both have western husbands and new baby girls.
“We all coexist happily,” Jane said. “My parents didn’t want me dating anyone who wasn’t Korean because it would have been easier for them to communicate and integrate culturally. But in hindsight, Mom and Dad realize how worldly it is to invite someone from a different part of the world into their lives. So, I’m married to an English guy now. My parents love Pete and we’re all doing great.
“We’re rewriting what it means to be Korean American. And we’re all okay with that.”