Editorial: It’s not just America’s game

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Women’s professional golf, while not on par in terms of popularity with the men’s tour, is an international game with tournaments and players from around the world.

The LPGA boasts 121 players from 26 countries teeing it up in its three dozen tournaments, including 12 outside the U.S., and that doesn’t include the popular Legends Tour stops such as the BJ's Charity Championship at Granite Links in Quincy.

But rather than capitalize on its growing popularity outside of the United States, LPGA officials have issued a myopic – some might say xenophobic – decree making English the official language of the women’s tour in apparent deference to the American sponsors.

Starting in 2009, any player on the tour for two years or more who cannot pass an oral English evaluation will be suspended, although many of the 45 South Korean LPGA players who are beginning to dominate the sport said they were told they would lose their eligibility cards, and with it the chance to earn a living.

A cynic might say this is the LPGA’s best chance to get some of its rising (read: attractive) U.S. stars into the upper tier of money and rankings and the skeptics would have a point if you look at this year’s results.

Nine of the top 10 money earners on the tour so far this year are international players and 16 of the top 20 in the Rolex rankings hail from non-English speaking countries. All four LPGA majors this year were won by international players, and of the 24 LPGA tournaments so far this season, only three American players and an Australian player have topped the leaderboards. The remainder have come from non-English speaking countries including six different Asian players (although in fairness Mexico’s extraordinary export Lorena Ochoa has been pretty dominant, too.)

“This is an American tour,” said Kate Peters, LPGA State Farm Classic tour director. “It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience.”

If it’s an American tour, what happens in October and November when the players travel to Singapore, Japan, Korea and Mexico? Will LPGA officials take a crash course in Cantonese, Japanese, Spanish and Korean?

Limited English skills never stopped baseball’s Spanish-speaking players from excelling on the field and engendering enormous fan support and that’s now emerging with the growing number of Japanese players as well, including Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka.

If a golfer does not learn English, she is only hurting herself in the lack of endorsements she gets in the United States. Perhaps a simpler solution would be to hire more Asian interpreters, especially Korean. Outside of Korean tournaments and a select few stateside, there are no regular interpreters available at the events.

We understand professional golf is a business and English is the international language of golf. “Fore,” “birdie,” “tee,” and the like are the same no matter what tongue they roll off.

Besides, proper golf etiquette requires silence on the course. That is a universal language.

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