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Archive for Saturday, August 30, 2008

Commentary: What’s next, LPGA? Weight limits?

August 30, 2008

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Beginning in 2010, you learn to speak English or you can't play on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour.

Obviously a fence was too expensive.

The LPGA gathered its powerful corps of South Korean players at a tournament on Aug. 20 and told them to grab the flash cards.

The new policy: All players who have been on the tour for two years must be proficient in speaking English. If not, they could have their membership suspended.

The 45-woman Korean contingent is the target here. Their attendance at the meeting was mandatory.

There were no Japanese, Thais, Malaysians or San Fernando Valley residents at the meeting.

This is all a bow to the great god Marketing.

The LPGA has struggled occasionally with TV slots and sponsors. It is losing its queen, Annika Sorenstam.

And the Koreans keep coming. Eleven of the top 30 money winners are Korean, and six have won LPGA tour events, not including Ji-Yai Shin, 20, who won the Women's British Open although she isn't a tour member.

When tournament winners can't conduct interviews, or properly say "thank you" during trophy presentations, LPGA officials squirm. The clear question: What do the marketeers want if this gambit fails to work?

Will the LPGA require plastic surgery, or a weight limit? Morning aerobics with Natalie Gulbis?

Imagine the reaction if European track promoters were arrogant enough to demand that Americans speak German or Dutch or French, or if the Japanese PGA Tour forbade its U.S.-born players from speaking English.

But Fernando Valenzuela hardly ever did an organized interview in English. Vladimir Guerrero doesn't do them now, and neither does Bartolo Colon or Ichiro Suzuki. Neither do K.J. Choi or Shigeki Maruyama on the PGA Tour.

It's not that they can't speak English. Most of them can at least fake it. They just don't want to be ridiculed because they can't speak smoothly in the American vernacular. They also fear saying something impolitic or inaccurate. As we all can. Hey, even Joe Biden sprains his tongue.

The American players are fully behind the English rule. They figure that if the Koreans are learning proper verb conjugation, they won't be practicing as much and, therefore, beating American brains out every week.

What's interesting is that the Koreans support it, too.

"When you win, you should give your speech in English," Se Ri Pak told Golfweek. "Mostly what comes out is nerves. Totally different language in front of the camera. You're excited and you're not thinking in English."

The LPGA uses a language immersion program and has English tutors. The LPGA also has a Cross Cultural Professional Development Program, co-sponsored by KOLON, a Korean corporation. Since 2006 the tour has been putting its players through simulated interview situations and trying to improve the players' golf parlance.

After all, nobody is demanding that the Koreans get behind a microphone and explain the time/space continuum.

It probably won't take two years for them to learn how to say, "I want to thank all the volunteers who made this possible" and "I had 179 to the front, so I went with the hybrid."

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