LPGA's English-speaking mandate blasted

STEVE COAD -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

EGMONDVILLE -- The LPGA Tour is "targeting" Korean golfers when it decided on an English-first mandate, a member of the men's Canadian Tour said yesterday on the eve of their tour stop here.

It's "crazy," another U.S. player said with a gasp.

These kind of reactions were echoed throughout the day by fellow Canadian Tour players in response to the hot-button LPGA policy, which came to light on Tuesday.

Beginning in 2009, LPGA members will be required to speak English, and those who have been members for two years will face suspension if they can't pass an oral evaluation.

The Canadian Tour players, practising for today's first round of the $150,000 Seaforth Country Classic at Seaforth Golf and Country Club, were just starting to learn the details of the LPGA's move around lunchtime yesterday. It created quite a buzz.

"I've heard the basics and they're really targeting the Koreans," said Dong Yi, a 30-year-old Korean-American who lives in Phoenix. "They're dominating the LPGA. They're getting the TV time, they're getting the interviews.

"The bottom line: It's a golf tour, not a public-speaking tour. I think they're making a mistake. They want sponsorship dollars and a lot of it comes from Asia."

LPGA numbers show there are 121 internationals on tour -- including 45 from South Korea -- representing 26 countries. The LPGA sees the policy as necessary due to the diversity of its athletes.

"Why now? Athletes now have more responsibilities and we want to help their professional development," deputy LPGA commissioner Libba Galloway told AP on Tuesday.

Sixteen of the tour's current top-20 money winners were born outside the U.S, including eight South Koreans.

That's not lost on the folks in Seaforth.

"All the Koreans are winning," said veteran caddie Chad Smalley of Stratford, who will be on the bag for pro Jim Lemon of Madison, Wisc., this week. "Who cares; it's a golf tour, not a school. This is (the LPGA's) way -- a nice way -- of saying they don't want the Koreans. Heck, the Koreans could start their own tour."

Five-time Canadian Tour winner Mike Grob of Billings, Mont., a former member of the PGA Tour, was taken aback upon hearing of the policy.

"That's crazy. Suspend them? It seems a little radical to me. I can see encouraging them, but not suspending them," he said. "It's scary. Forcing them to learn English? Think of how scary that would be if you were a young Korean player and you wanted to play on the LPGA Tour. Is there a precedent for this in any other sport or in business? I can see giving them (English) classes."

A group of four U.S. players sitting in the bleachers beside the 18th green all thought the policy was harsh, but one -- his voice rising above the others as they opined in unison -- said:

"I think it's a sponsor thing. If you've paid to play in a pro-am and you're paired with a Korean player who can't speak a word of English, well, that's not very good is it?"

Jay Choe, a 24-year-old Korean-American from California, was squarely on the thumbs-down side.

"It doesn't make sense," he said. "The whole tour is about golf, how you perform at golf. Why not just hire a translator? Let them learn. Don't suspend them. A translator is better for them. They can't always say the things they want to say when they win, how happy they are."

Carolanne Doig, Country Classic co-chair with Maureen Agar, said she agrees with the LPGA.

"Anywhere you go in the world to work, you speak the language," said Doig, who deals with "90 to 95 per cent" of LPGA Tour players through her company, Seaforth Rain Gear.

She said the large Korean contingent sticks together, as "we all do. We flock together. It's comfortable. It's easy, the camaraderie is there."

Doig said when Se Ri Pak joined the LPGA Tour in 1998, she opened the door for other South Koreans.

"She was here alone and she blew the lid off the Tour (with her success). As the only Korean player, she learned English. Now she is so respected. I really believe the LPGA is a wonderful tour, a wonderful fan experience.

"I understand (the LPGA's) frustration when the athletes can't articulate their appreciation for fans and sponsors. The spirit of the LPGA is to be appreciative. That's where they're at -- and the LPGA plays out of America.

"Out of respect for the Tour, I think the players should learn English."


Videos

Photos