I’ll bet LPGA Tour Commissioner Carolyn Bivens can now spell “xenophobia” backward and forward and in her sleep. Last Monday, when Golfweek broke the news that in 2009 the LPGA would begin suspending players who were not proficient in English, the collective sports world dropped its jaw in unison.
By Friday, the outcry from professional golfers (male and female), sports reporters, sponsors and politicians had forced Bivens into hiding, leaving Deputy LPGA Commissioner Libba Galloway to clean up the mess.
Bivens did, however, release a statement:
That Bivens and Co. were shocked by public response is ridiculous.
There are 121 international players from 26 countries on this year’s LPGA tour. The LPGA’s top player, Lorena Ochoa, is from Mexico. The most dominant player of the last decade, Annika Sorenstam, is Swedish. And all of the majors this year were won by international players: Ochoa, Yani Tseng from Taiwan, and Inbee Park and Ji-Yai Shin from South Korea.
The real ugliness of the proposed rule is that almost all of the international LPGA players do speak English. The only players who really struggle with the language are Korean, and even then it is only a small number. Of the 45 Korean women on tour this year, there are perhaps seven or eight who do not speak English fluently.
Bivens insisted that the purpose of the rule was to help golfers maximize their earning potential with individual sponsorships, which sounds fine, but doesn’t really add up.
First, there are dozens of Korean companies that support the LPGA. Second, it is in the best interest of women golfers to learn English so they’ll be more appealing to corporate sponsors, and all of the Korean women who have been on the tour for any length of time have learned English. To mandate it is nothing more than a superfluous flexing of muscles, another stroke of arrogance painted on top of a country that really doesn’t need any more PR for its xenophobia.
Women golfers have been fighting inequality for years. Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Master’s Tournament, still doesn’t have any women members. Rather than stand against that injustice, though, the LPGA turned in on itself and discriminated against its own members.
How long does it take for a self-inflicted black eye to heal? Longer than it takes to learn English, I’d wager.