MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — South Korea’s Se Ri Pak defended the LPGA Tour in the wake of its short-lived plan to suspend players who don’t speak English well enough to satisfy sponsors, saying Wednesday that learning the language can benefit rising international stars.
Others at the Bell Micro Classic in Mobile, the first LPGA tournament since the controversy surfaced, also supported the goal of improving international players’ English skills. But they disliked the idea of suspending non-English speakers — which was proposed and then quickly shelved after a blast of criticism.
Stacy Lewis, an American trying to make the LPGA Tour, said she feels for foreign players under pressure to make an acceptance speech in English.
“I don’t think you can really make a rule about it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s fair because I think you should be out here based on your play, not what language you speak.”
Pak, inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last November, recalled her struggle to learn English when she started out 11 years ago. She said it’s important for young players who don’t speak English to learn it so they can discuss their successes on the course.
“They’re like hiding behind a shadow because they just can’t talk and can’t really get attention for it,” she said.
The LPGA Tour membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea. Asians won three of the four majors this year.
LPGA Tour spokeswoman Connie Wilson said Wednesday the language policy is still being written with input from players.
Golfweek reported last month that LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens disclosed the tour’s original plan in a meeting with South Korean players at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore. Critics quickly called it discriminatory, particularly against Asian players.
LPGA Tour officials then backed off plans to suspend players who cannot speak English well enough to be understood at pro-ams, in interviews or in making acceptance speeches at tournaments in the United States. Bivens said she would have a revised plan by the end of the year that would not include suspensions, although fining non-English speakers remains an option.
Bivens also sent a memo to the membership outlining the goal behind the new policy. She said players would never be required to be fluent in English, just proficient enough to get by in a few situations.
Johanna Head of England said it’s important for players to communicate with the media.
“When a player has won, they should be able to speak good English so they can communicate,” she said.
Shirley Shin of Los Angeles, hired by the LPGA Tour to tutor Korean players in English, said the tour was only trying to help players.
“It’s hard to please everyone Ã¢â‚¬” sponsors and players,” said Karin Sjodin of Sweden over lunch in the Magnolia Grove clubhouse. She said it’s “hard to make the rule fair.”
Alena Sharp of Canada said the policy isn’t to “single out players,” and it was “silly” for the LPGA to backtrack on it, because people will doubt that it was a serious move.
“Something needs to be done,” she said, stepping off the driving range. “I don’t want to lose any more sponsors.”
She said sponsors are unhappy when winners cannot give an acceptance speech in English. Some sponsors, however, said they were glad the LPGA Tour pulled back from its original plan.