In a move that truly indicates just how reactionary and afraid for their image the LPGA tour is, the powers-that-be announced the other day that tour players will all have to speak English within two years or face suspension. Newcomers to the tour get no grace period.
It doesn't seem to be a secret that the new rule is aimed at large contingent of South Koreans (but also other players from Asian countries). Learning English is considered part of a player's "professional development" says an LPGA rep.
The AP story I read this morning in my local paper and the one linked above both quote South Koreans, including Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak, saying that the new rule is a good thing for the tour. Though Pak believes players not passing the exam should be fined--not suspended.
I was surprised that no one was registering any complaint. Christina Kim said the policy was a little surprising but that she believes 99 percent of the players support it.
I was able to find, before I went a little crazy thinking I was the only one who thought this was a ridiculous policy, a few dissenters. This columnist from Newsday calls it a public relations nightmare criticizing the policy and the way it was presented to the world (via Golfweek's website). Unfortunately he sees the LPGA as not really engaging in racist or discriminatory behavior and that it's generally a progressive organization because it implemented drug testing before the men's tour (why drug testing is seen as progressive makes no sense) and that they don't make an issue out of anyone's sexual orientation. If what he means by that is they don't kick anyone off the tour or ostracize suspect or out lesbians, I can't really call that progressive either. There's plenty of mention of sexual orientation when that orientation is straight.
This policy is not a blip on an otherwise upstanding organization.
Libba Galloway, the tour's deputy commissioner, called the LPGA an American tour. But last time I checked the United States didn't have an official language.
When American players go abroad to play--which they do--is it expected that they will speak the language of the host country?
Luckily I can always turn to the Canadian media for support. This editorial asks the same question I do above but also notes that the LPGA--the "American" tour--plays in Canada, Mexico, Singapore and even, yes, South Korea.
I think that if the players are going to have to pass oral exams, then so should all commentators and LPGA officials. They should be required to correctly pronounce every active player's name. This might not be as difficult for golf commentators/officials as those in tennis but I think it would be a helpful exercise regardless.
PS. WaPo columnist Leonard Shapiro comes out against the policy. I have some problems with his use of the phrase "proper English" as in his job would be easier if players spoke proper English. But he makes a good point about how this will affect golf's campaign to make it into the Olympics in 2016; also noting that the fact that Augusta National, which still does not allow female members, is on the list of supporting organizations.