Update: Great news. Facing heavy criticism, the LPGA has reversed their decision to suspend players an English speaking requirement.
“We no speak good Engrish.”
Wow. So many thoughts but I guess I knew this was coming. It was inevitable because there are so many Korean “international” women  now on the LPGA tour and truth be told, they’re simply kicking arse. On any given tournament, it’s not surprising to see half of the leaderboard peppered with the names of Korean golfers. And while I know that there are 121 foreign players on the LPGA, this somewhat seems indirectly directed to the Korean golfers as attested by the recent “mandatory meeting” for the South Korean golfers.
The LPGA is a private association so it is true that they can make up these rules but suspending memberships isn’t the answer. Whether it’s been communicated differently to the “international” golfers privately may be different but from a PR perspective, it doesn’t smell right because it sounds like a threat. The LPGA is an association that boasts itself as the premier women’s golf tour in the world…so it shouldn’t be surprising that they’re going to attract international players. And as long as they meet the “golfing standards,” it doesn’t seem right that they have to also PASS a language exam, right?
And having lived in Korea for couple years and working not only as a pastor but also as a lecturer at a university in Korea, I can tell you that Koreans are obsessed with English – in an unhealthy way. It saddens me to know how much parents will sacrifice – financially and communally – in order to get the children the “head start” to learn English. This is why you’ve got so many English speaking folks going to Korea to teach English. There aren’t that many places in the world that your average person – simply by being able to speak English – can make $40-$60/hour. Just by knowing English.
These golfers know a level of English but imposing a threat of suspension really isn’t the best way of creating a “world class” association. I fully agree that they ought to learn English and assist in helping “market” the LPGA but I strongly disagree with the membership suspensions. When you make it mandatory, it stinks of the whole “colonialism” junk so many have complained about western powers: “Fit in or else.”
Let me put it another way. What if the article stated a new rule where a WEIGHT LIMIT was put into motion for the female golfers because the LPGA complained that heavier golfers can’t be marketed for the LPGA and were hurting income. Wouldn’t we all raise a stink? Reminds me when the NBA came down on some of the NBA players because they didn’t dress a certain way. It was a general policy but also seemed to be indirectly directed to the black players.
So, we want you to be a part of the NBA; we’ll use you to market the NBA; we’ll use you to elevate the game and competition; we’ll use you to sell tickets…but we don’t want you to look too “ghetto” black.
Wear a suit. Take off the chains. Easy on the tatoos. blah blah blah.
That was the dangerous implication I was sensing.
Two more [big] reasons why this bothers me is because I feel like the Asian culture is being misunderstood and worse, possibly manipulated. In the past, the LPGA and some of the “other” golfers complained about the “lack of personality” of the Korean golers and wanted them to be more engaging? But what if the Korean culture has a different perspective on “engagement”?
Personal example: Growing up in Korea, I was taught that avoiding direct eye contact with adults and elders were a sign of great respect. When I came to the states, teacher after teacher kept hammering me – verbally and occasionally, through grades – at my deficient social skills. Even now, I have to intentionally make eye contact because it’s not my natural inclination. I have to because most Westerners will do some sort of weird psychoanalysis about my depravity and weakness as a leader because of my “visual” dis-acuity.
Secondly, most of the Korean LPGA players will not make a big deal out of this because this is what the dominant Korean/Confucian culture dictates: Be calm and quiet. Be passive. Don’t bring attention to yourself. Don’t shame your country. But my hunch: if there were 45 international French or Italian players on the LPGA tour that didn’t speak English, I don’t believe this becomes a mandatory policy.
The Korean golfers bring so much depth and excellence to the LPGA tour. It’s not a one sided benefit. While it is true that individuals can choose to join or not, I can tell you with absolute certainty that if all 45 Korean golfers left the LPGA, it would not be what it is because they simply wouldn’t have the best golfers in the world.
LPGA: I’m sorry that these “international players” aren’t like Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel or Erica Blasberg [who hasn't won a single event and only has a single Top 10 finish but happens to be the face for Puma's global golf marketing campaign. Hmm, I wonder why?]. This move is a double bogey move for the LPGA in my opinion. So as of today, I’ve decided to remove my two daughters from the LPGA track and get them ready for the PGA. Michelle Wie can’t seem to hack it so my daughters will need to break that barrier.
Enough of my nonsense. What do you think? Here’s the article from ESPN.
The LPGA will require its member golfers to learn and speak English and will suspend their membership if they don’t comply.
The new requirement, first reported by Golfweek on its Web site, was communicated to the tour’s growing South Korean membership in a mandatory meeting at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 20. Connie Wilson, the LPGA’s vice president of communications, confirmed the new policy to ESPN.com.
Players were told by LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that by the end of 2009, all players who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face a membership suspension. A written explanation of the policy was not given to players, according to the report.
“Hopefully what we’re talking about is something that will not happen,” Libba Galloway, the tour’s deputy commissioner, said of the potential for suspensions, according to Golfweek. “If it does, we wouldn’t just say, ‘Come back next year.’ What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring … and when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate.”
Every Korean player who spoke with Golfweek about the meeting came away with the understanding she would lose her tour card if she failed the test rather than face suspension, according to the report. But Korean players who spoke about the policy supported the tour’s position, though some, including Se Ri Pak, felt fines would be better than suspensions.
“We agree we should speak some English,” Pak said, according to the report. “We play so good overall. When you win, you should give your speech in English.”
Betsy Clark, the LPGA’s vice president of professional development, said a team of evaluators will assess players on communication skills including conversation, everyday survival phrases and “golfspeak.” Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator, she said, according to the report.
Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but that players’ English proficiency would not be measured until the end of 2009, according to the report. The LPGA’s membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries; 45 are South Koreans.
“This should be a priority in their professional development just the way working on their short game is a priority,” Galloway said, according to Golfweek. “We just wanted to be clear about our expectations.”
Angela Park, a Korean-American who was born in Brazil and speaks three languages, said it’s difficult to “come to a foreign country and be yourself.” She also supports the rule and says it’s fair, according to the report.
“The LPGA could come out and say they only want 10 Koreans, but they’re not,” Park said, according to Golfweek. “A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it’s just because there are so many of them.”
And Seon-Hwa Lee, who said she is working with an English tutor during the offseason and plans to brush up for the evaluation, thinks everyone “can do a simple interview,” according to the report. Her ability to answer questions without a translator has improved during her time on the tour.
“The economy is bad, and we are losing sponsors,” she said, according to the report. “Everybody understands.”