ORLANDO, Fla. – Folks who fret that a disconnect between Asian stars and American audiences handicaps the LPGA with the Far East’s influence growing should have been in the audience Friday night at the LPGA Rolex Awards program.
The work Asian stars are putting into connecting with the American fan base is notable.
While there’s no denying the tour needs American stars for American fans, Asia’s best showed Friday just how hard they are working to connect in the English language.
With Cristie Kerr missing the awards show feeling “feverish,” Japan’s Ai Miyazato, Taiwan’s Yani Tseng and South Korea’s Jiyai Shin and Na Yeon Choi were called to the ballroom stage to talk about their battle for Rolex Player of the Year this weekend. Golf Channel’s Tom Abbott summoned each to the podium and interviewed them. All four players spoke competently and comfortably in English without translators.
The work these four players have put into speaking English was also clear in that none of them relied on a translator when meeting the media earlier in the week to discuss their competition for POY. Make no mistake, the language connection is far from perfect, but you can’t help hearing the improvement over the last few seasons.
While speaking English isn’t required to be an LPGA star, it doesn’t hurt. The efforts the game’s best Asian players made Friday night is an example to every Asian player who wants to maximize her LPGA experience in the United States. It's also an example to American players who want to connect with the tour’s growing Far East audiences.
Just two years ago, former LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens told Asian players she was planning to implement an English proficiency test that would come with penalties for players who couldn’t pass. The proposal created a furor and was never implemented. Today, the LPGA has a traveling Language Training Center to assist players who want to learn new languages. The tour also offers the Rosetta Stone program. Shin, Choi and Miyazato are among players who have taken advantage of the popular LTC program. LPGA officials report LTC staff are often completely booked the two days before tournaments begin. Vicky Hurst is in the LTC program, learning Korean, her mother’s native tongue.