The LPGA

Pat Tate Women's Golf Center
What will the final LPGA’s language policy look like? With In-Kyung Kim* winning this week’s Longs Drug Challenge and because time is running out for this policy to be formulated, I thought that maybe we should examine the challenge the LPGA has with this issue.

This summer the LPGA, the leader for all women’s golf, and its Commissioner Carolyn Bivens were very criticized for trying to come up with a new language policy. The swords came out in full force when the contents of a private mandatory meeting with 45 Korean players and their parents were leaked. Although no decision had been taken it was suggested that if the players did not learn to speak English by the end of 2009 they might face suspension. The idea behind this ill advised policy was to improve the ability to communicate in interviews, to be understood and interact at Pro-Am events, and to be able to comment when they win a tournament.

The result of this leak was for California State Senator Leland Yee, California Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, and California Assemblyman Ted Lieu to accuse the LPGA of workplace discrimination. Civil rights groups, sponsors and players expressed their displeasure of this policy. So the LPGA took a hasty retreat from this stance.

Libba Galloway, Deputy Commissioner of the LPGA stated “We are not looking for perfection. We’re not looking for fluency in a language. We’re just looking for basic communication skills that will help our players interact with pro-am partners, with media and with the acceptance speeches.” Carolyn Bivens said there would be a revised plan by the end of year.

The challenge that the LPGA faces is how to attract sponsors, attract Pro-Am partners and create a fan base for these talented golfers who are unable to communicate with a North American audience. Many comments have been made that the MLB, the NHL, and the MBA don’t require their players to speak English. However these are all team sports and the fans support the team. Golf is an individual sport where the players must not only perform well but they must also be able to promote themselves.

The LPGA currently has 121 International players from 26 countries and 45 of these players are from South Korea. Seven of the twenty four or almost 30% of the LPGA events this year were won by the players from Asia.
Let’s meet some of these players:

•Seon Hwa Lee – her rookie year was 2006. She has had 5 top tens and 2 wins in 2007 plus winning the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship. She likes to shop, listen to music, and watch movies.
Yani Tseng- her rookie year was 2008. She has 7 top tens and I win – The McDonald’s LPGA Championship. She has one brother and one sister. She enjoys sports, shooting pool, watching movies, shopping and hanging out with friends.
Eun –Hee Ji – her rookie year was 2007. She has 6 top tens and 1 win – The Wegmans LPGA. She likes to listen to music.
Inbee Park – her rookie year was 2007. She has 7 top tens and 1 win – The US Women’s Open. She likes to ski and to play the piano.
Ji Young Oh – her rookie year was 2007. She has 3 top tens and 1 win The LPGA State Farm Classic. She likes to listen to music.
Ji-Yai-Shin – Although she is not a member of the LPGA she has 2 top tens and she won the British Open. She is currently a member of the Japanese LPGA.

Looking at these Asian stars it is interesting to note that they all began to play golf as children (the youngest was 6 and the oldest 13) and they have all become dominant players in the last two years. It stands to reason as we go into 2009 they will have a very prominent place on the tour. It also seems fair to say their dominance caught the LPGA off guard. The question is how is the LPGA going to take their talent and compel us to turn on our television to watch them perform? How will the LPGA attract golfers to pay large amounts of money to play in a Pro-Am with them? The LPGA is a sporting organization that competes with not only other sports but all forms of entertainment for their revenue. Entertainment is a ratings game and a very fickle one at that. Can media outlets like the Golf Channel interview them and highlight them so they are just not extremely talented golfers but real people to the audience. It is fine to suggest the LPGA should ramp up the multi culture programs that they have in place but how quickly can they see results? Do you have some good suggestions that can be put forward before the end of year to help the LPGA? The possible loss of the LPGA to Asia as its prime base for sponsors will influence women’s golf, and the role model they present to attract North American girls to the game of golf.

*In all fairness In-Kyung, who has been in the US for only three years, she demonstrated that she is making a great effort to learn English and handled herself extremely well during the trophy presentation and acceptance speech.

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