LPGA Tour will suspend memberships if players don't learn English
The LPGA will require its member golfers to learn and speak English and will suspend their membership if they don't comply.
The new requirement, first reported by Golfweek on its Web site, was communicated to the tour's growing South Korean membership in a mandatory meeting at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 20. Connie Wilson, the LPGA's vice president of communications, confirmed the new policy to ESPN.com.
"Why now? Athletes now have more responsibilities and we want to help their professional development," deputy commissioner Libba Galloway told The Associated Press. "There are more fans, more media and more sponsors. We want to help our athletes as best we can succeed off the golf course as well as on it."
Players were told by LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that by the end of 2009, all players who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face a membership suspension. A written explanation of the policy was not given to players, according to the report.
"Hopefully what we're talking about is something that will not happen," Galloway said of the potential for suspensions, according to Golfweek. "If it does, we wouldn't just say, 'Come back next year.' What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring and when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate."
Every Korean player who spoke with Golfweek about the meeting came away with the understanding she would lose her tour card if she failed the test rather than face suspension, according to the report. But Korean players who spoke about the policy supported the tour's position, though some, including Se Ri Pak, felt fines would be better than suspensions.
"We agree we should speak some English," Pak said, according to the report. "We play so good overall. When you win, you should give your speech in English."
Betsy Clark, the LPGA's vice president of professional development, said a team of evaluators will assess players on communication skills including conversation, everyday survival phrases and "golfspeak." Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator, she said, according to the report.
Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but that players' English proficiency would not be measured until the end of 2009, according to the report. The LPGA's membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries; 45 are South Koreans.
"This should be a priority in their professional development just the way working on their short game is a priority," Galloway said, according to Golfweek. "We just wanted to be clear about our expectations."
Angela Park, a Korean-American who was born in Brazil and speaks three languages, said it's difficult to "come to a foreign country and be yourself." She also supports the rule and says it's fair, according to the report.
"The LPGA could come out and say they only want 10 Koreans, but they're not," Park said, according to Golfweek. "A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it's just because there are so many of them."
And Seon-Hwa Lee, who said she is working with an English tutor during the offseason and plans to brush up for the evaluation, thinks everyone "can do a simple interview," according to the report. Her ability to answer questions without a translator has improved during her time on the tour.
"The economy is bad, and we are losing sponsors," she said, according to the report. "Everybody understands."
ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig and The Associated Press contributed to this report.