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LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens

It would be inappropriate (not to mention libelous) to say that LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens was stupid for first announcing that members of her tour would be suspended if they could not speak the English language with enough fluency as to please the media, potential rich-cat pro-am partners and tournament sponsors. Inappropriate but hardly without merit.

To her credit Bivens backtracked from that stance quicker than a mouse confronting a hungry alley cat when legislators and other right-minded people began pointing out that a language requirement flew in the very face of what America stands for (ever hear of the first amendment?).

At first blush it would seem prudent for the financial well-being of the LPGA that its members be able to communicate smoothly with the vast majority of those from whom they derive their income.

Upon deeper review it’s extremely arrogant for any organization to infringe upon an individual’s right of free expression (or in this case language) just because it might cost a few $$$$.

The LPGA’s biggest problems are that its best players are largely Korean and the vast majority of tournaments are primarily held in the United States, one of the few developed nations that does not teach its students to (actually) learn another language (hell, we barely teach our kids to speak English).

That would be fine if the majority of the better players were American (or at least spoke fluent English), but over the past 10 to 15 years the LPGA Tour has become dominated by foreign players, particularly those from South Korea.

Statistically there were 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from Korea participating on the LPGA Tour in 2008 and Asians won three of the four majors.

They play well but do not speak English well enough to make sponsors happy.

Sponsors like to feature major championship winners in ads and other promotions and it helps if they can appear in the advertisement and say something witty like, “I thought my best drive of the year came on the final hole of the U.S. Open but that was before I got behind the wheel of a 2009 Buick.”

The scary part of this whole myopic philosophy is that it could be only the first step. What’s next? If the Korean ladies continue to dominate play are we going to do what Little League Baseball tried back in the 1980s when the Taiwan teams were winning all of those world titles in Williamsport, namely ban them from participating because they’re too good?

The Little League ban only lasted a year or two, but it gave the world a very keen insight into our national insecurity, which seems to be, “If you can’t beat ‘em, ban ‘em”.

From a personal point of view I get very frustrated when I pick up the phone and try and get some information on a product or service only to be greeted on the other end of the line by somebody who speaks broken English.

But their English is certainly far superior to my Spanish, French, German or anything else. After four years of studying French (including a year in college) my mastery of the language only allows me to order French fries, say yes and utter a few phrases to women that are guaranteed to get my face slapped.

Imagine being a 19-year old girl from Korea, who begins hitting golf balls at age six, works extremely hard, becomes proficient enough to turn pro, has to leave her family and culture and travel to a very, very foreign land to try and earn a living. She does very well and then has to deal with some moron who dictates that her play alone isn’t good enough. Now she has to learn to speak one of the most difficult languages on the planet just so she can crack a few jokes while playing with some bank executives from Desmoines during a pro-am.

The sad thing is that most of these young ladies work very diligently at trying to learn enough English to get by whereas American players who compete abroad expect everyone in the world to speak our language and therefore never make an attempt to learn a new language.

 (Tim Geary is a freelance writer with over 33 years of experience, the last 24 of which he served as a sports writer for the Fall River Herald News, before retiring last October. He contributes to several golf magazines on a regular basis.)

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