Pro Golfer Joanna Coe Isn’t Afraid of a Little Competition—and You Shouldn’t Be Either, She Says

Joanna Coe is, hands down, one of the most competitive people I know. 

She is also one of the most dedicated, generous and easy-going humans I have the pleasure of calling a friend. 

Joanna works incredibly hard, but also knows when to leave it on the field and have fun with her large but fiercely loyal community. 

Jo and I are—needless to say—incredibly different, and we joke about this often. This is one of the many attributes I admire about Joanna, though: her ability to connect across difference and on a human level, while also being incredibly secure in her identity. 

She is constantly redefining for all of us what women can do in a game dominated by men and using her platform to discuss what that means both in and outside of the game of golf, having spent decades garnering respect as an athlete, a scholar, a professional and a friend. 

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Anne Hilb: Joanna what is your personal mission statement and what led you to create one?

Joanna Coe: I am a competitive and sports-crazed Jersey girl from Mays Landing who happened to fall in a love with a sport that is my livelihood, hobby and passion. 

My journey to the game is golf is long and complicated, but it has led me to my personal mission statement:

“To play golf competitively, happily and freely for the rest of my life. This pursuit guarantees an active and healthy lifestyle to keep me at the top of my own and the world of teaching. As a result, I will empower women to pursue golf and athletics so that they may use these skills as leaders in business, government, finance and more.”

My journey started at a local public golf course in South Jersey called Blue Heron Pines, where I met my lifelong coach, Bruce Chelucci. Blue Heron Pines provided a comforting place for a young girl to play and practice.

Like being a part of a family, I was always welcomed and encouraged to utilize all the facilities. I never felt intimidated or unwelcome—but I know many women in golf cannot say the same. 

As the youngest of three sisters in a middle class family, we would never have been able to afford the steep fees associated with a country club.  Yet, I was never charged a dime to play or practice: I was “their girl.” I was constantly surrounded by older, adult men and was always treated like a daughter.  My time at Blue Heron set the stage for my entire life. I fell in love with the game, learned about the golf swing and understood the importance of growing the game.  

The next stop of the journey took me to Florida where I played collegiate golf at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. The combination of tournament experience and important life lessons learned from my coach, Julie Garner, made it clear that golf would be a part of my life beyond school.

Earlier this year, Joanna earned one of the biggest victories of her golf career: the PGA Women’s Stroke Play Championship.

After four years playing professional golf at the highest level, I made the tough yet crucial decision to move from full-time tour professional to the teaching ranks. I joined the team at Baltimore Country Club in 2016.

As the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Assistant Director of Instruction and Junior Golf Coordinator, I am responsible for teaching private lessons and schools, overseeing the junior program, playing golf with members and representing the local in local and national tournaments.  I wake up every day and inspire people to play the game that I love. Seriously, I am one lucky girl!

AH: When you think about competition, what comes to mind?

JC: When I think about competition, what comes to mind is not just the simple thought of trying to beat your opponents.

I think about the entire process: the beginning of the day to the end of the day. I think about waking up on a game day and being so pumped up after my alarm goes off. Or the feeling of driving to the golf course with my favorite song blasting in my car. I think about the pregame jitters I would feel during a high school soccer game. And I think about all the teammates throughout my life who have sacrificed immensely for a common goal. I think about draining a birdie putt in front of thousands of people. 

I also think about all the failures I have experienced in competition. Those failures are gut-wrenching and brutal—but somehow I am always back for more.

Joanna often hosts Daddy Daughter Day clinics, providing fathers and daughters the chance to connect and play golf together.

AH: How does your competitive nature fuel you? Does it hinder you at all?

JC: My competitive nature fuels and drives me to pursue greatness. And not just on the golf course: I strive to be a great athlete, a great daughter, a great aunt, a great leader.

That said, I know that I am not perfect and can’t do it all. And failures during competition have taught me that it is okay to fail. In fact, it can be quite beneficial. Kelly Clarkson said it best: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

My competitive nature can hinder me when I can’t turn it off.  Some may find it intimidating. In fact, I had a bit of a temper back in the day—but I have worked on controlling those emotions. Those closest to me understand my competitive nature and never take it personally.  My goal is to always have fun and be myself while competing.  

AH: Joanna, you are a leader in a field dominated by men. What has that taught you both personally and professionally?

JC: Personally, it has taught me how to “hang” with the guys and to develop a thick skin. I am often invited to sporting events, golf trips and other events with mostly men and can hang with the best of them in regards to sports, jokes, language and more.  Therefore, I don’t miss out on any opportunities.

Professionally, it has taught me the language of confidence and how to fight for myself. When you can individually perform on the golf course under pressure or serious scrutiny, it makes a room full of men feel pretty normal. I have learned to show my grit. 

AH: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from golf and the athletics industry that you think is applicable to business leaders?

JC: First, golfers in particular are very “on time” people. I know that business leaders have extremely busy lives. As so, their time should be respected. When you are involved in athletics, you learn that 15 minutes early is on time and on time is late. 

When you are on a sports team, you and your teammates are sacrificing and working towards a common goal. This makes you understand the importance of teamwork, perseverance, time management and commitment. You understand each other on a deeper level.

In business, you want your team focused on the bigger picture.  Athletes tend to understand that bigger picture and can apply it to business. That is why it is no surprise that 80 percent of female Fortune 500 executives played competitive sports at one point in their lives, according to a study conducted by espnW and EY.

Joanna helps train the Roland Park Girls Golf Team.

AH: Do you have a favorite memory out of all your experiences thus far as a leader in your field?

JC: I don’t think I can pick just one memory.  Throughout my career, I have inspired young girls and women to play the game of golf.  It is my absolute favorite to see my family, friends and students use the skills that they acquired on and off the golf course to benefit their careers.  

AH: What advice would you offer women and girls trying to break into spaces that have been traditionally male-dominated?

JC: I would say dive in head first, have a support squad of strong women and always fight for yourself.

Joanna (front right) with some of the top female PGA Professionals.

AH: What’s the coolest place you have ever gotten to play?

JC: I just went on a golf trip to Ireland. The Irish people are so nice. The golf is unbelievable and the scenery is gorgeous.

AH: Joanna, tell us something dorky about yourself. 

JC: I collect pigs. Inside joke with the family, but I have lots of little piggies around the house.  I even had a pig headcover on my Driver for over 10 years.

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