By John Garrity
Thursday, August 28, 2008

How do I put this in language the LPGA will understand?

Really, I'm at a loss for words — although "appalled" comes to mind. How do I express my view that the LPGA's new rule — a requirement that all players with at least two years of tour membership be functional speakers of English — is, at the very least, gauche (a French word, by the way) and probably actionable?

I confess, I didn't see this coming. For several years now the LPGA has promoted itself as a "world tour," a golf circuit with players from 26 nations competing in tournaments on four continents. Swedes! Mexicans! Filipinos! One big happy family! But now a wave of Asian golfers has reached our shores, little gals with big swings and Samsung visors, and suddenly we discover that they are ... inscrutable! They win our tournaments, they smile for the cameras, they mumble "very happy thank you," and then drive off in their chauffeured Infinitis and Lexuses, leaving the tournament chairmen speechless. Literally.

And that, we're supposed to believe, is why action must be taken. The golf writer from The Daily Bugle can't do anything with a third-round leader whose best quote is, "Hope tomorrow is good also." The businessman who pays thousands to play in a pro-am doesn't want to be stuck with a partner whose English is limited to "you're away," "good shot," and "ATM." The title sponsor can't coax a greenside encomium out of a gal who can't pronounce the name of his product.

But let's not be naive. The new regulation, if it goes into effect next year, says that players who do not pass an English-proficiency evaluation will be suspended until they have corrected their deficiency. There is, however, no corresponding requirement that English-speaking golfers learn to speak Korean, Japanese, Spanish, French, Afrikaans, or Malay in the eight other countries that host LPGA events.

Discriminatory? You bet. The new rule is sort of like the poll taxes that Southern states used to levy on voters, confident that even a small fee would discourage the turnout of racial minorities and the poor. Mandating English in the workplacehas a similarly oppressive edge to it. LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens shouldn't be surprised if protesters with bullhorns and signs start turning up at her tournaments.

And could the timing be any worse? An expected season-long duel between superstar Lorena Ochoa and retiring Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, two international players fluent in English, fizzled in the summer heat. Who took home the big trophies? Yani Tseng of Taiwan (LPGA Championship) and two South Koreans, Inbee Park (U. S. Women's Open) and Ji-Yai Shin (Women's British Open). Raising the language issue now is about as subtle as assigning a two-stroke penalty on the first tee to all players named Park, Kim or Lee.

Maybe I'd see it differently if it was my job to market the LPGA in the Western Hemisphere. But I can't help thinking that Bivens and her minions are trying to swat a gnat with a sledgehammer. Many of the Asian players don't speak English yet for the simple reason that the rush to America is a recent phenomenon. The golfers who have found success here are buying homes, planning families, looking for business opportunities and, slowly but surely, picking up the native lingo. Furthermore, it's safe to predict that most future tour stars will speak English. That's because English is the international language of business, and tournament golf is — guess what? — a business.

But maybe the LPGA can't wait. Maybe the tour would rather turn the clock back to the time when good 'ol girls won every week and the only foreign language spoken in the locker room was Texan.

Anyway, that's my opinion. If you want the Korean version, call for a translator.

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