No 8 Watch Your Language


The LPGAs critics ' and they are nasty and legion ' have long insisted that the organization should be renamed, The Gang That Couldnt Shoot Straight Unless It Was Aiming At Its Own Foot.
This is largely unfair, especially if you consider all the progress the LPGA made under the stewardship of former commissioner Ty Votaw, now a senior executive at the PGA Tour.
But in August, Votaws successor, the controversial Carolyn Bivens, stirred up a hornets nest of negative publicity for womens golf when it was reported that she had plans to threaten fines and suspensions for foreign players who couldnt pass minimum English language requirements.
Worse, Bivens reportedly announced these plans in a meeting to which only players of Asian descent were invited.
Bivens was coming from a marketing standpoint. And, to be fair, there has long been an understanding that the LPGA, struggling to keep sponsors in certain cities, needed to make all of its players more fan friendly. At the very least, the LPGA needed to make its players capable of communicating with well-heeled pro-am partners. Its a language fluency that most agree is the price of doing business on the golf course in the womens game.
But the threats came off as being heavy-handed. And the blowback from the Asian-American community in the United States was fast and furious.
It should be noted here that Asian women won three of the LPGAs four majors in 2008. Lorena Ochoa, a Mexican, captured the other one. There are 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea on the LPGA. Many of them have minimal English language skills.
Don Shin, whose Global Sports Management is based in Orlando, Fla., represents South Korean LPGA players Meena Lee, Sarah Lee and four other Asian women. He told that the LPGAs move was appropriate. But he said none of his players were initially told what the oral evaluation would entail.
Shin made several very good points at the time. He said he wasnt worried about any of his players passing a test. And, he added, most of them have been receiving English tutoring, two months out of the year, since as early as 2005.
But he pointed out that Korean, like Japanese or Chinese, is very different than English ' much more so than, say, Spanish, Italian or French. And, he said, any Asian women who fail an oral evaluation should be given a proper amount of time to receive more help with the English language.
Bivens responded by saying the LPGA wouldnt begin considering suspensions until the end of 2009.
The goal was to eradicate this stereotype: Four cigar-chomping, middle-aged American men say hello to a 22-year-old South Korean woman who bows at the introduction on the first tee of the Wednesday Pro-Am. There are smiles but very few words exchanged over the next five-and-a-half hours after which the men scratch their heads and wonder why their foursome paid $10,000 for little or no conversation.
Who was to blame is a matter of opinion. But an imposition of oral evaluations carried with it no small whiff of infringement upon civil liberties.
By September, Bivens had changed her tune. Under increasing criticism, the Tour backed off plans to suspend players.
'We have decided to rescind those penalty provisions,' Bivens said in a statement. 'After hearing the concerns, we believe there are other ways to achieve our shared objective of supporting and enhancing the business opportunities for every tour player.'
By October there were signs of progress when Korean-born In-Kyung Kim won the Longs Drug Challenge.
Kims victory did not come as a surprise to anybody who noticed that she finished in the top 10 in each of the last two womens majors this year. But the performances that put the most smiles on the bosses back at LPGA headquarters were the one turned in by the 20-year-old Kim in the press room and at the trophy presentation.
Kim was the first Korean to win an LPGA event since the storm of controversy accompanied the organizations announcement that it was going to mandate more English language proficiency from its foreign-born players.
At her Longs news conference Saturday, Kim made it through without an interpreter and referred to herself self-deprecatingly, but endearingly, as a
Little punk kid. Very American.
The word she probably was looking for was underdog. But all the present knew
what she was trying to say. Then Kim revealed that she had been taking English classes two days a week at the University of South Carolina but that she struggled in other parts of the country because the South Carolina accent was so different.
Finally, with the sponsors beaming in the background at the presentation of the winners check, she blushed and said, This is like my English class. If they had been handing out grades that Sunday, the consensus is that In-Kyung Kim
would have received an A on the course and an A off the course as well. Rosetta Stone language courses, she said, have also helped.
Finally, at the LPGAs season-ending ADT event in late November, Bivens updated her tours progress. Our intention, she said, is to develop a cross-cultural program in addition to a language policy that will be inclusive, and meet the diverse needs of all the members of the LPGA.
Bottom line, our primary goal and intent is to do the right thing by our entire membership, our sponsors, our fans and the golf community at large.
Getting more specific, Bivens added: What has come out of all of this are offers, in some cases for some pro bono work, from some pretty impressive groups and organizations and were taking them up on it.
So were actually going to make this more extensive then wed ever intended to in the very first place. Our goal is to come out of this a year to 18 months from now and have a model program.
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