Learn English or find a new line of work. That is basically what the LPGA tour is telling it’s member, or at least that is what a few of its member believes.

Golfweek reported on its website that the LPGA informed players last week that those on the tour at least two years will have to pass an oral evaluation of their ability to speak English. If they fail the evaluation, then they would be suspended from the tour.

“Why now? Athletes now have more responsibilities and we want to help their professional development,” deputy commissioner Libba Galloway told The Associated Press. “There are more fans, more media and more sponsors. We want to help our athletes as best we can succeed off the golf course as well as on it.”

For years, the tour have been dominated by foreign player, players from Mexico, Taiwan and Korea have won the last five championship, Asian players alone have won 8 of the 25 tournaments this year. It is a foreign tour despite the fact that it’s home base is in the United States. There are a 121 international players on the tour and 45 of them are from South Korea, and of the top ten Rookies this year, zero are from the U.S.

The game continues to grows in non-traditional golf countries, especially in Asia and South America, and the number of player from whom English isn’t a primary language will only increase. So you have to ask your self, is this really a practical and sensible business decision or just plain cultural chauvinism. Some have even thrown out racism, that might be a bit too far, but not out of the question.

The South Korean believe that they are being targeted, because of their numbers and success on tour. And it is very easy to see why they think that. The tour held a mandatory meeting with the South Korean last week to inform them of the rule. But I ask you, why just have a meeting with South Korean? Why not have a mandatory meeting with international players?

Angela Park, a Korean-American, said “A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it’s just because there are so many of them,” she added “The LPGA could come out and say they only want 10 Koreans, but they’re not.” Truth be told. No they can’t. If the LPGA put a cap on how many Korean played on tour, they would lose so much more money then they are now from all the backlash.

After the meeting, many Korean believed that if they didn’t pass the evaluation that they would lose their tour card, not suspension. I don’t know what went on during that meeting, but I don’t think that this was a lost of translation moment. The South Korean are very smart (Yes, I did throw in an Asian stereotype) and know more English then they lead on. Look at Yao Ming, he pretty much converse in English in the locker room but he still used a translator in interview for over a year.

It isn’t a secret that a few players and tour official dislike the South Korean. In 2003, Jan Stevenson, an Australian player was quoted as saying “The Asian are killing our tour.” She continued with “If I were commissioner, I would have a quota on international players and that would include a quota on Asian players. As it is, they’re taking American money. American sponsors are picking up the bill. There should be a qualifying school for Americans and a qualifying school for international players. I say America has to come first. Sixty per cent of the tour should be American, 40% international.”

The language issue had been brought up before as a reason why the LPGA has struggle to retain funding in a volatile market. The tour believes that players who can’t sustain an English conversation can’t possibly mingle with corporate sponsors and heavy-hitters who shell out big money to play in Pro-ams before the big event.

The tour also feels that they’ve lost some very compelling stories in the past due to players inability to communicate and the media unwillingness to struggle past the language barrier. Stories such as Ji-Yai Shin’s, who won the British Open this year.  Shin lost her mother in a car crash when she was 15 and spent a year on a cod in a hospital room next to her brother and sister who were recovering from the crash. But is it really the players fault that the story was lost. I spent the last two weeks watching 30 five to ten minutes player profiles on both American and Foreign Olympic athletes. So you can’t tell me that the story got lost because of a communication issue. Especially, with such things called as … oh yeah, a translator.

I do believe that international player should learn some basic English and so do most of the players, including the ones who struggle with English, it is only in their best interest to do so. Most of the tour is set in the U.S. so learning English will make their life on tour more comfortable and easier as they’ll be able to communicate with restaurant and hotel staff. It is also in their best interest to please and chit-chat with sponsors and amateurs that pay their salaries. Everyone understand that it is not just about making that ten foot putt, but that it is also a business.

The problem that most everyone is having with is the penalty for the failure to comply to the rule. Suspension is absolutely too harsh where a fine will suffice. Another reason why the South Korean believe they are being targeted. If you can’t beat them, then find a way to get rid of them, right!

Either way, the LPGA clearly feels that being able to communicate in English is essential to their business model. “We believe it is pretty clear that effective communication in English is really fundamental to our business,” Galloway said. “It’s pretty clear businesses and organizations have the [legal] right to establish a certain set of skill requirements” for participation.

Like it or not, there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. It is comply or get lost. The new rule has stirred up some controversy, but last I heard, no one will attempt to fight it, that is until someone actually get suspended for not complying.

I’ll leave you with this, isn’t it a double standard? The tour will expect the winner to make a speech at the end of each tournament, but next year when the tour hold tournaments in Thailand, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan, will they require English speaking players to learn the native language and make a speech in that tongue? I very much doubt that.

Advertisements