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Staying the Course

 Champion Golfer Park Ulrich  opens up about beating cancer and driving past imperfection

This recent quarantine feels eerily familiar to Park Ulrich of Stilwell. Diagnosed with leukemia in February 2008 as a high school senior, he spent an entire year in isolation. His golf scholarship to Louisville, Ky. slipped through his shaking fingers as he stayed home to receive cancer treatments at Children’s Mercy. Diagnosed just weeks shy of age 18, he was eligible for treatment as a child. 

“That was the biggest blessing because their treatment protocols were immensely better,” Ulrich says. “I credit them with my healing today.”

Ulrich, now 30, can relate to the heartbreak of 2020 grads, especially the athletes missing their big moments. “I was at the top of my game when suddenly it was gone,” he says, “But I would tell students to focus on what they can control and look forward to the future. Time will heal.”

This champion amateur golfer has had a remarkable journey from the outset. Born in Seoul, South Korea to young birth parents he never met, he was adopted at five months by his American parents who named him Park, his Korean last name. Park Ulrich attended Blue Valley schools and showed intelligence early on, especially in finance. His dad used to give him play money to trade in the market. He did so well that by age 12 he begged his dad to seed him with the real stuff. 

“He said, ‘If you lose it, you owe me,’” Ulrich recalls.

But he didn’t. His first buy was Apple. 

“I got lucky from the get-go,” he adds. “Sometimes it got me, but for the most part, I made a lot of money as a teenager. I’ve always enjoyed watching the market, and I still do today.”

As a wealth manager at Sky Capital Wealth Advisors in Overland Park, Ulrich has won numerous awards, including 5-Star Wealth Manager for the past two years—given to less than 7 percent of regional wealth managers by a third-party research firm. Ulrich attributes his success to good instincts that create exceptionally good portfolios.

“I’m not doing anything crazy,” he says, “but I’m very proud of my track record.”

Area residents may recall Ulrich’s name from his days on the golf team at UMKC, though he considers himself mediocre then. After his cancer treatments, he’d lost 40 pounds. His hands shook from all the drugs. His back was fragile from monthly spinal taps. Yet, he still expected perfection from himself—an obsession that led him to see a golf psychologist.

For four years, Ulrich stopped playing golf. During this time, his perspective started to change. He got married to Becky, a pharmacist, and they had a daughter named Evelyn, now 2. 

“You realize that people are more significant than replaceable things like work or golf,” he says. 

With Becky’s encouragement, Ulrich started golfing again at age 27. It was like he never quit— except he was better. “My hands stopped shaking, and my game improved. I won a championship my first time back. After Evie was born, I won my next two events, so my mother-in-law said my daughter was my good-luck charm.”

These days, Ulrich plays 6-10 tournaments a year and is always balancing work and family with his aspirations. He has enjoyed a dominant streak in the mid-Amateur scene, but he calls himself “the ugly duckling” among his golf buddies, one of whom is on the PGA Tour.

“I’m still humbled and overshadowed that my friends are still better.”

As board chairman and club champion of the Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate, Ulrich is often asked when he will turn pro, but he says amateurs get to play better courses. Still, his dream is to play at Cypress Point in California and to qualify this August for the U.S. Mid-Amateur for golfers over age 25. It’s a one-round qualifier, so Ulrich considers it a long shot, but the winner goes to the U.S. Open and The Masters. 

And yeah, he’d like to meet Tiger one day. 

“Tiger is the whole reason I was drawn to golf as a kid. When I got sick, I told the Make-a-Wish Foundation that I wanted to meet Tiger Woods, and literally the next day, the whole scandal came out,” Ulrich says and laughs. “Instead they gave me a DVD set of Tiger’s Greatest Moments.”

Ulrich adds that maybe he appreciates a golf comeback story more than most but watching Tiger at age 40 win The Masters after undergoing a back fusion and a personal hell was a “phenomenal moment.”

“Nothing brought me back to my childhood more than watching Tiger win last year. I woke up on a Sunday and was all excited to watch him wear his red and play the game. I felt like I was 12 years old again.” 

“There is no such thing as a perfect round of golf, so the chase provides the pursuit. I can hit golf balls my whole life, and I’ll never catch perfection.” —Park Ulrich