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Analysis Lost in Translation

The word spread like wildfire. Golfweek magazines Web site was reporting late Monday that the LPGA was going to require its players to speak better English. And the phone lines, as they say in talk radio, lit up like Christmas trees.
On the one hand there was an understanding that the LPGA, struggling to keep sponsors in certain cities, needed to make all of its players more fan friendly and, at the very least, 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.
Ji-Yai Shin
Asian players have won 7 of the last 11 LPGA events, including Ji-Yai Shin at the Women's British. (Getty Images)
On the other hand there was a reaction in many quarters that the LPGA was acting in a ham-handed fashion by threatening possible suspensions to players who dont pass an oral English evaluation.
There are 121 international players from 26 countries, including 45 from South Korea on the LPGA. Many of them have minimal English language skills.
The game here is still golf. And the object is still to shoot the lowest score. But the LPGAs move has already been at least partially lost in translation. Golfweek reported that several South Korean players believed failure to pass the test would result in their losing their cards, not just being suspended.
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. Tuesday he told that he was aware of the new policy that was revealed to South Korean players at a meeting last Wednesday.
Shin said the LPGAs move was appropriate. But he said none of his players have yet been told what the oral evaluation will entail.
Shin made several very good points. He said he isnt worried about any of his players passing the 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 the oral evaluation should be given a proper amount of time to receive more help with the English language.
As it stands now, the LPGA wont begin considering suspensions until the end of 2009. Shin suggested the LPGA take 2009 as a test year for the program and put off any possible suspensions for at least another year.
I have watched LPGA Pro-Ams and seen the stereotype: Four cigar-chomping, middle-aged American men saying hello to a 22-year-old South Korean woman who bows at the introduction on the first tee. 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.
Whos to blame is a matter of opinion. But an imposition of oral evaluations carries with it no small whiff of infringement upon civil liberties.
One counter-point is that these are Asian women who are making a good living on an American tour.
One counter-point to that counter-point is no one is threatening Argentinas 2007 U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera, whose English arrives through an interpreter, with the an English evaluation test.
Eventually the hope is that this will resolve itself for the best. Maybe thats being naively optimistic.
Meanwhile, I cant help thinking about the famous quote from George Bernard Shaw, who referred to England and the United States as two countries separated by a common language.
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