It was an appalling idea in any language, said John Garrity in Golf.com. The LPGA recently ignited a firestorm when it announced that its players would have to become proficient in English by the end of 2009, or risk suspension. “They need to be great performers on and off the course,” said one official, “and being able to communicate effectively with sponsors and fans is a big part of this.” Officials didn’t say so directly, but their edict clearly targeted the Asians who now dominate women’s golf. Of the 121 international players on this year’s tour, 45 are South Korean, and the LPGA is upset that they’re so ... well, inscrutable. “They win our tournaments,” the thinking goes, “smile for the cameras, mumble ‘very happy, thank you,’ and then drive off.” These limited language and social skills don’t exactly endear the Koreans to sponsors or corporate executives “who pay thousands to play in a pro-am” with them. After widespread outrage, the LPGA last week rescinded its threat to suspend non–English speakers. But the Korean players could still risk fines.
Koreans are hardly the first foreign women on the tour, said Jim McCabe in The Boston Globe. So why the big problem? The LPGA never chastised “Anika Sorenstam for speaking Swedish or Patricia Meunier-Lebouc for speaking French.” Maybe the issue isn’t really language but race. “Shocking? Yes,” said Hank Gola in the New York Daily News. “Surprising? Not really.” In its obsession with marketing women’s golf, the LPGA is also trying to downplay the presence of lesbians on the tour and golf’s popularity among gay women. So to win over men, the league is heavily promoting such comely, all-American players as Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, and Morgan Pressel. The quiet, self-effacing Korean players just don’t fit into that pinup girl picture.
Let’s, for a moment, look at it from the LPGA’s point of view, said Richard Oliver in the San Antonio Express-News. The LPGA already has limited TV exposure and a small fan base, and sponsors are now bailing out en masse because of the slumping economy. “These are anxious times for women’s golf,” and unless players pitch in to promote it, the tour itself could die. Is it too much to require players to learn enough English to hobnob with the folks who pay the bills? “In golf, money talks. But on these shores, it wants to carry on a conversation, too.” Ideally, in English.