LPGA to its 121 Foreign Players: Learn English, or Get Suspended

The LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) tour recently announced that it will require all its players to speak English starting in 2009.

”Why now? Athletes now have more responsibilities and we want to help their professional development,” deputy commissioner Libba Galloway told The Associated Press. ”There are more fans, more media and more sponsors. We want to help our athletes as best we can succeed off the golf course as well as on it.”

Help them? Is that helping them like putting in a foreign language requirement, and then not offering courses to help meet it?

Help them? As in requiring them to learn a foreign language in a year—or face a suspension—when most people spend years learning a foreign language? Actually, Galloway said in a press conference that should a player get suspended, “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.”

(Though it wasn’t clear from the story, a “Suspend first, tutor later” policy sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. My guess is that one of the first English words foreign players will learn is draconian.)

“The bottom line is, we don’t have a job if we don’t entertain,” LPGA Tour player and president of the executive committee Hilary Lunke told Golfweek. “In my mind, that’s as big a part of the job as shooting under par.”

It’s true that the biggest part of a tournament’s bottom line comes from the pro-am, and if LPGA players can’t speak English, they can’t socialize with the predominantly English-speaking amateurs who pay to play with them.

And as ESPN’s Bob Harig pointed out, it’s true that it’s in a player’s best interest to learn English. This is where they’ll be spending most of their time, so their lives will be easier if they can conduct their affairs (travel, order food in restaurants, keeping sponsors happy) in English.

But making it a requirement is unfair.

It’s a rule that affects Foreign players only, who will likely have to bear added time and expense to meet it. That’s like asking English speaking players to work full-time, and non-English-speaking players to work double-time.

”This is an American tour,” one tournament director said. ”It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience.”

Actually, the LPGA has 121 international competitors from 26 countries, and 45 from South Korea alone—that makes it an international tour.

So why not treat it as such? The only way to make an English-language requirement fair tour-wide would be to require English-speaking tour players to learn a second language in the same amount of time. (While we’re on the subject of fairness, LPGA executives could lead by example and learn a foreign language—in addition to their regular duties.)

Besides, think how happy sponsors would be if an American golf star went overseas and promoted the game and the LPGA in another language. That’s exactly the effect Kobe Bryant had at the Olympics, when he gave interviews in Spanish and Italian. He’s not just a basketball star, he’s a worldwide ambassador for the NBA who sells more jerseys in China than Yao Ming.

If Libba Galloway is sincere about helping players’ professional development, making them all bilingual would be a fairer, better way to grow the tour.

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