Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Updated: August 27, 7:03 PM ET
LPGA Tour's new policy on speaking English goes overboard
By Bob Harig
An interpreter might be a simpler solution.
Not to be smug, but does the LPGA Tour really need to go to the extreme of threatening suspensions if international members cannot speak proper English?
The reported new rule that would force international members who have been on tour for two years to pass an English oral evaluation or face suspension is harsh. And it certainly does not send a very positive message as the game continues to grow to all parts of the globe.
That is not to suggest the LPGA Tour should do nothing.
The tour's hierarchy understandably is concerned about its product and how it will be able to prosper when a growing number of the members are from outside the United States and unable to speak English.
You might be inclined to think the golf ball knows only one language, but there is so much more to the business of the game than simply shooting the lowest score.
Most tournaments on the LPGA Tour -- and the PGA Tour as well -- exist because they are run by local nonprofit organizations that set up the infrastructures for the events. The biggest part of the bottom line comes from the pre-tournament pro-am, which allows amateurs to get inside the ropes the day before the event and play a round of golf with the pros.
For some, it is a harrowing experience, but it also is memorable and enlightening. During 18 holes, you get to not only play on a nice golf course, but also interact with the players. Annika Sorenstam might tell a story about Tiger Woods. Juli Inkster might give you a few putting tips. Laura Davies might even hang around afterward and tip back a pint.
But the outing is not nearly as enjoyable if the pros cannot speak to the amateurs, who are paying thousands of dollars for the experience. Just like in any business, the LPGA wants its customers to be happy.
"The bottom line is, we don't have a job if we don't entertain," LPGA Tour player and president of the executive committee Hilary Lunke told Golfweek. "In my mind, that's as big a part of the job as shooting under par."
Very true. But should the LPGA deny a player her livelihood over it?
It is in these players' best interests to learn English. They will play a majority of their golf in the United States, where their lives will be a lot easier if they can communicate with those who serve them in restaurants, give them directions to hotels and come to watch them play. It is hard enough to compete at an elite level, but that gets compounded when a player feels trapped by a language barrier.
However, the international players also need some time. Look at Se Ri Pak, who began the South Korean explosion onto the LPGA Tour. The Hall of Famer couldn't get through an interview 10 years ago without some sort of translation. Now she is proud of the English she speaks.
Perhaps the numbers have made it easier for players not to make the effort to learn English. There are 45 players from South Korea on the LPGA roster and 121 international competitors from 26 countries. Many players can hang out with those from their homeland and feel comfortable speaking their native language.
In the case of the South Koreans, hiring a full-time interpreter for every event would be a good start to solving the precarious situation in which the LPGA Tour and its membership currently find themselves.
Then, if the LPGA wants to set up deadlines for English proficiency, perhaps denying a player a spot in a pro-am field and issuing a fine is a better way to go when deadlines are not met.
It is not as severe as taking away a player's opportunity to play but still gets the message across.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.