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English-Only in the LPGA

This article is more than 11 years old.

The LPGA recently told players that they needed to learn English, or risk losing their right to compete.  While the move might seem necessary for a league that still needs to attract more fans and corporate sponsors, Bill Littlefield isn't convinced.

Let’s give credit to the LPGA for providing assistance to the golfers whose first language is not English. For several years, those players have had access to a couple of programs designed to teach them to say everything from “I’m going to the store” to “I’m going to the store to buy a hat.” Unhappily, the programs, which seem to have been directed primarily at the many South Korean players on the tour, haven’t worked well enough to suit the suits and pants suits at LPGA Central. Apparently executives in the corporations sponsoring the LPGA have complained that some of the Korean players in their pro-am foursomes can’t comfortably converse with them. And so, on the lush lawns where the LPGA does business, that increasingly fragile illusion that sports is a meritocracy has taken another low blow. You may be good enough to shoot sixty seven all weekend, but if you can’t schmooze comfortably with the sponsors, you’re gonna lose your tour card …or at least that’s the impression the Korean players who spoke with Golfweek Magazine got from a meeting to which they were summoned on August 20th. To some extent, those players may have been shocked. Who wouldn’t be alarmed to learn that the opportunity to earn a living by demonstrating extraordinary prowess at golf would be threatened by sub-par communication skills? How mystified the Korean players must have been when they thought of one particular golfing U.S. citizen who’s held on to his job for almost eight years, despite continuous public struggles with the language. On the other hand, the LPGA has for some time now identified itself in terms of the so-called Five Points of Celebrity: Appearance, Relevance, Approachability, Joy/Passion, and Performance. Something like the five points system has allowed any number of clowns and incompetents in various other fields to keep their jobs. Singers who can’t sing, for example, and bankers who fail to responsibly bank. But does it seem right that “Performance” should be the fifth element in the hierarchy of the five points in golf, where one might assume the key requirement would be the ability to knock the ball into the hole with fewer swings than others can do it?  

This program aired on August 29, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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