Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Commentary: LPGA needs public-relations lesson

September 4, 2008

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So, LPGA commissioner Lou Dobbs - excuse me, Carolyn Bivens - wants to convey that English is the official language of the LPGA Tour.

This seemed fairly apparent to the 95 percent of LPGA players, officials, sponsors, fans and assorted observers who routinely communicate in English. But hey, sometimes you circulate a memo just to make sure that everyone is paying attention.

The current message, however, started and stopped with the large and successful South Korean contingent, which was informed at the most recent tour stop that beginning next year, they must pass an English proficiency evaluation or face suspension.

No word yet on whether that requirement also will apply to Latinas, Japanese, Swedes, Finns or the stray Californian.

A couple of thoughts: The LPGA is making more of this than is necessary; and, an organization desperate to present a friendly and inclusive image could use a p.r. refresher course.

According to Golfweek magazine, LPGA brass summoned the South Korean membership to a mandatory meeting Aug. 20 at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore.

Though the LPGA has 121 players from 26 countries on tour, the Koreans were the only group required to attend.

They were told that, beginning in 2009, those who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation in English or otherwise be suspended.

They weren't given a written explanation of the new policy. They weren't told what sort of evaluation. They were given no details about suspensions.

Many of them walked out of the meeting believing that their tour cards would be yanked if they failed, which won't be the case.

That misunderstanding - talk about "lost in translation" - prompted a statement from the LPGA saying that they hoped to issue specific guidelines by the end of the year.

The LPGA can't do any better than that? They single out one nationality's players, scare them, then send them on their way and say, "We'll be in touch."

At the very least, the LPGA should have handed out DVDs of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver interviews. The Left Turn Brigade is unmatched in thanking and mentioning the maximum number of sponsors in the least amount of time.

In case you hadn't surmised, that's what this is about: money and sponsorship and marketing appeal.

The LPGA's unintended message to the Koreans: You're too many, too different and too successful. You need to English it up in order to fit in and minimize the differences.

South Koreans comprise by far the largest and most successful group of international players on the LPGA Tour - 45 have tour cards. Five of the top 10 money winners, and nine of the top 20, are Korean. They have won seven times on tour this year and are all over the leaderboards.

Undoubtedly, a segment of the domestic population has no problem with the LPGA stance. Come to our country, they say, speak our language.

To their credit, many of the South Korean players aren't angry about the new policy. They understand the need to become more fluent and comfortable with English, for the financial health and well being of the tour.

If only the LPGA brass communicated as well.

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