Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Mostly Harmless Tiffany Joh Interview

Tiffany Joh's been on a roll lately, with a silver on the Futures Tour, a top 25 at the Wegmans LPGA Championship, and now a gold in her return to the FT this week. I've already written about Amy Yang, Joh's playing partner at Locust Hill last Sunday, so it's about time I put together my observations of the same 15 holes I followed T-Joh for--along with a transcript of our post-round interview. You know, before the U.S. Women's Open starts?

OK, just as Yang's final round was filled with mightabeens, T-Joh's Sunday was sabotaged by the same club that held back her playing partner: her putter. As you can see from her scorecard, she hit the most fairways and greens in her week that day, but also took by far the most putts (31 as opposed to 26 the previous 3 rounds). Even so, she would have had a solid 72 were it not for the par-5 17th that Yang eagled--and just missed double-eagling. Joh had put her drive in the right fairway bunker, hit her layup a hair too far and ended up in the thick rough 25 yards or so short of the green, and had time to get near it while Yang waited for the green to clear so she could go for it in 2. The upshot was that Joh had a perfect angle on Yang's approach, which looked from our angle (210 yards away and unable to see the front of the green) that it was drifting dangerously right of where she had aimed, but in actuality just carried the front-right trap, took a great kick, hit the stick, and almost ended up in the hole. As Yang and her caddie were walking up the fairway, T-Joh was holding her hands up in the air a few inches apart. Although I could tell that Yang was excited (for her), T-Joh was probably the most excited person of the hundreds who witnessed the shot. And she paid for it when she got around to playing her pitch. She caught it heavy, leaving it in the trap, then caught that shot heavy, leaving it in the rough short of the green, then put her chip 2 feet away and watched helplessly as her very-slightly push-firmed tap-in did a 270 and spun out, leaving her with her 1st over-par hole since the 3rd, a 4-shot-swing-with-Yang double bogey! (T-Joh had battled her way back to tied with Yang through 16, despite not being nearly as precise with her irons or as long off the tee all day....)

Talk about deflating: after missing a number of great birdie chances from the 4th through 14th holes (if I remember correctly, on the 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 11th, and 12th), she had finally gotten one to drop on the par-3 15th--a big breaker from the lower tier, 25 feet short of the pin--then made a great par save on the tricky par-4 16th from left trees off the tee and right trees short of the green, thanks to a tough 8-foot downhill slider after a miracle pitch from Deadsville. Even so, she bounced back with a par on the monster 18th and finished the week T25, 4 shots out of the top 10, 3 behind Yang, tied with fellow Futures Tour sensation Pornanong Phatlum, and 2 behind 2010 FT Player of the Year and money-list leader Cindy LaCrosse, who had an even tougher Sunday in the final pairing with Ya Ni Tseng. The gap between the freewheeling, go-for-broke T-Joh I followed on a Sunday last July and the tactical T-Joh I witnessed last Sunday could not have been starker (although her final round in Rochester was more like her moving day in Syracuse). But I have to say that her 74 at Locust Hill was light-years more impressive than her 70 and 72 at Drumlins East.

So even though T-Joh hasn't been lighting the LPGA on fire in her rookie season and she probably has a better chance to keep her card via the Futures Tour top 5 than the LPGA top 80, given that she didn't qualify for the U.S. Women's Open and is running out of full-field events to play in the rest of the season (she's currently #84 on the LPGA money list and #3 on the FT money list), she has been learning how to bring her Futures Tour game to the big leagues and making good progress in the process. And like Morgan Pressel and Mika Miyazato, she was in a very good mood when I interviewed her after her round Sunday. Here's the transcript, as best as I can reproduce the rhythm of the actual interchange:

THE CONSTRUCTIVIST: Was this your first LPGA major?

TIFFANY JOH: Um, Mostly Harmless Golf, huh? [half-chuckles.] Yeah, um, this is my third major, second as a pro, so...

TC [interrupting]: U.S. Opens?

T-JOH: Yeah, I played at Oakmont last year and I played in the Kraft as an amateur when I was, like, a senior, so....

TC: All right, well, how does this course compare to Oakmont? Let's start with that.

T-JOH: Um...well [weighing her words]...Oakmont's was a little bit firmer, it was a little bit more intimidating and daunting. This course, I've heard stories about from last year, and supposedly the rough is not nearly as penalizing as it was last year--and I thought it was kinda penalizing. [laughs] Yeah, I mean, Oakmont was definitely...very--I think I shot, like, 84 one of the days [laughs at herself], and it felt like I shot 75. I was...

TC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

T-JOH: Um, it was, uh...I can't, you can't really compare two courses--it's like, you can't say which kid you love more, you know? [laughs]

TC [laughs geekily, then stops abruptly]: Well, then, I'm actually going to ask you to make another comparison, then, back to Drumlins...

T-JOH: Um-hmm?

TC: ...East....

T-JOH: Drum-lins East...

TC: Syracuse last year.

T-JOH: Ohhh, yeah.

TC [joking]: It's just like that week: you were chasing Cindy [LaCrosse], you were chasing Cindy today...

T-JOH: [laughs] ...Yeah! Except...

TC: ...Pornanong [Phatlum] was in the mix...

T-JOH: know, except both times it was, like, a futile chase. [laughs]

TC: [laughs]

T-JOH: Really, but--um, no, I love seeing the girls from the Futures Tour out here. It's nice to see some friendly faces...

TC: Um-hmm.

T-JOH: ...especially when you can get so easily intimidated by all the big guns out here.

TC [incredulous]: Really...? You...?

T-JOH: [chuckles modestly]

TC: Really?

T-JOH: Believe me!

TC: Women's Amateur Public Links champion...

T-JOH: [laughs]

TC: ...twice...

T-JOH: Yeah! [laughs]


T-JOH [drily]: I get intimidated by my shadow sometimes.

TC: [laughs] Did you become a little bit of a spectator on 17 after Amy's shot?

T-JOH: Yeah, I went crazy!

TC: [laughs]

T-JOH: [laughs] Meanwhile, I'm, like, doubling it. [laughs] Sitting there, and I saw her...because I was up on the hill, like, walking to my ball, and I saw it just ram the pin, and then just, like, sit right there--

TC: You saw it all?

T-JOH: Yeah, and I looked back there and I'm trying to tell her that it's, like, this close [holds up her hands a few inches apart]--I'm sure that looked really inappropriate! [laughs]

TC: No, it was hilarious.

T-JOH: [laughs]

TC: Her caddie had to talk her into that shot, by the way--

T-JOH: Yeah?

TC: She was trying to lay up with a 4-iron. And he was like...

T-JOH: Yeah?

TC: ..."Come on, just hit the hybrid, just hit the hybrid!"

T-JOH: Yeah? Well, I mean, good thing she did. I was looking there and I was like [in fangirl voice], "It's this close!!" and she was looking at me like, "What are you doing?" [Ed. note: From my vantage point, it seemed like Yang was thrilled by and curious at the crowd's reaction to her shot. She and her caddie gathered it was close, but since none of us could see the green from where we were, we had no idea just how close it was. So it was both exciting and informative when Joh reacted the way she did. Kind of reminded me of Fuzzy Zoeller waving the white towel--to Greg Norman, wasn't it?--an eon ago....]

TC: [laughs] Was this week like an emotional roller coaster--I mean, like, your save on 16...

T-JOH: Yeah...

TC: ...was amazing, and then you go and do what you did on 17...

T-JOH: Yeah, well...

TC: ...and to recover on 18....

T-JOH: Yeah, well, I mean, I was telling my caddie, my day yesterday was pretty much the same, like...

TC: Really?

T-JOH: Yeah, I had like ten putts through the front nine and was like three-under and then made three bogeys....

TC [commiserating]: Yeah, I saw that...

T-JOH: ...almost consecutively, they were just right there.

TC: [groans]

T-JOH: And after, like, the round yesterday, I was, like, "Man, I feel like Phil Mickelson [laughs] at the Masters."

TC: [laughs]

T-JOH: All over the place. But, honestly, with how, you know, badly I hit the ball at some points this week, I'm really happy with the finish I had.

TC: Yeah.

T-JOH: Plus, I'm going to take a lot of experience out of this, so....

TC: Definitely. You were in the mix!

T-JOH [somewhat wistfully/mostly disbelievingly]: [laughs] Yeah...

TC: For a second! [laughs] For a second!

T-JOH: [laughs]

TC: Yeah, well, what Ya Ni was doing, outdoing Rory....

T-JOH: Yeah, just running laps around the field. [laughs]

TC: I mean, it's crazy. When you see somebody doing that, I mean, I saw Cristie [Kerr] do it last year...

T-JOH: Yeah?

TC: It just they're on another planet, or something.

T-JOH: Yeah, you just kind of sit there and, take it in, try to learn a few things. [laughs]

TC: When you started the day, were you thinking of second, or were you just thinking, play your own game, do what you do best....?

T-JOH: Honestly, I was just sittin' there, thinking, "Keep it in play today."

TC: Uh-huh?

T-JOH: "Please keep it in play!" And I did sometimes; sometimes I didn't. [laughs self-deprecatingly]

TC: Well, you had it going in the middle of the round.

T-JOH: Um-hmm.

TC: It felt like you really loosened up and relaxed a little...

T-JOH: Yeah, um-hmm...

TC: ...and you started to stick some shots...

T-JOH: Yeah.

TC: I remember on the Futures Tour Sunday, you were just...going wild aiming at pins--

T-JOH: Yeah-- [laughs]

TC: --from wherever, and I was, like, "Wow, she's playing a very...tactical game today."

T-JOH: It's funny, though, because normally, like, when I don't have a caddie, and I'm just, kinda, either I have a friend on the bag that doesn't know anything about golf or I'm just looping my own bag, I mean, I just have no clue what I'm doing. I just, you know, just hit the ball and go for everything. And when you have a caddie on the bag and he's like [in soothing, calm voice], "OK, you kinda wanna, like, err on the left side here," and you're like [aghast], "What?! [laughs] What?! What are you talking about?!" [laughs]

TC: That's true! Like, I kept asking you the last two years if you'd let me caddie for you, and you were like, "No, no, no..."

T-JOH: [laughs]

TC: "'s ok, it's ok." But do you like--

T-JOH: I mean, I see green grass and a hole!-- [laughs]

TC: --do you like carrying your own bag better? Would you do it? [laughs]

T-JOH: I think, if they let us, I might. At the same time, I think I'd shoot, like, 900...

TC: [laughs]

T-JOH: [laughs]...carrying my own bag. But, I mean, Wayne, my caddie, has been great on the bag, he's been kinda--especially this course, where you have to stay below a lot of the pins, and he's all, like--there's been a couple of times where he's made me, like, lay way back, and I just glare at him...

TC: [laughs]

T-JOH: ...and then I get up there and make an easy par and so I'm, like [grudgingly], "OK, bye. You were right."

TC: Were you hitting a lot of 3-woods on the front? Or were you hitting driver consistently?

T-JOH: Um, I--any chance that I got, I was hitting 3-wood. Because my driver is--

TC: Oh, I was like, "Why is Amy always outdriving her?"

T-JOH: Yeah, my driver is a little scary right now, so... [laughs] there were a lot of holes--

TC: 10--10 was not scary. 10 was nice!

T-JOH: [laughs]

TC [not letting it go]: That was sweet!

T-JOH: But, I mean, like, this course, it's just, you know, you play safe, um, safe golf, and then, you just try to give yourself as many opportunities as you can for birdie,, it worked well for 17 of the holes! [chuckles]

TC: So you were in the hunt at a Futures Tour major last week...

T-JOH: Yeah!

TC: ...and now you come here--what's next for you?

T-JOH: Um, Futures Tour tournament in Indiana. Actually, I'm actually hopping in a car with a friend and we're gonna drive to Akron, Ohio, and play in a pro-am, and then...

TC [admiringly]: Crazy!

T-JOH: ...I'm gonna catch a ride--hitchhike my way to Indiana for the Futures Tour event [laughs], so....

TC [internal censor malfunctioning]: Holy shit.

T-JOH: It'll be fun, though! [laughs]

TC: Wow. And, then, are you going to come to Syracuse again, or...?

T-JOH: Yeah, I'll be there.

TC: Excellent!

T-JOH: Actually, that lady [who had been talking with her before our interview began] was my housing for Syracuse.

TC: Whoa, seriously? She came out all this way? [Ed. note: It's not much more than an hour, if that. What was I thinking?]

T-JOH: Yeah, apparently she came out and watched. Apparently she comes out every year to this tournament.

TC: That's awesome!

T-JOH: Yeah, she followed me all day and she was like, "I'll see you in a month!" And I was like, "Yeah, I'll see ya!" [laughs]

TC: That's great. Well, I'll see you in a month, as well.

T-JOH: All right, you'll be out there?

TC: Absolutely.

T-JOH: Cool! Thanks a lot!

Yup, I still have a lot of work to do on my interviewing technique! By the way, in T-Joh's defense against any who might object to her repetition of those interjections that I tried to transcribe faithfully above, it's clear when you listen to the audio that she was often using them to keep the conversational ball in her court, so to speak. Got to remember to stop stepping all over my interviewees' answers to my questions!

Seriously, I really appreciated how open and relaxed T-Joh was during the interview, which took more than 5 and a half minutes. As you can see, she's a really fun interviewee and her personality really comes through clearly. Here's hoping she brings a big winning streak to Syracuse at the end of the month!

[Update 1 (7/15/11, 8:09 am): Check out this recent LPGA Futures Tour interview with Joh, complete with a few of her music videos!]

No comments: