English-only golf

The LPGA says its new rules requiring English-fluency are for the good of the golfers. But what about the TV ratings?

Published August 26, 2008 10:48PM (EDT)

I hate getting scooped by my own publication, but that's what just happened when Salon's "5 Things" posted an Associated Press wire story about the Ladies Professional Golf Association's decision to require that all LPGA golfers pass an "oral evaluation of English skills." Grr. But the AP story is missing some key details, so I'll forge ahead anyway with the post I was working on.

The obvious catalyst for the LPGA's decision is the recent sustained dominance of the tour by South Korean women. But here's how the AP explains the English-only requirement:

"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."

Galloway is, at best, engaging in some distracting disingenuousness. We turn to Golfweek for some slightly more illuminating detail.

Hilary Lunke, president of the Player Executive Committee, said much of this initiative stems from the importance of being able to entertain pro-am partners. Players already are fined if the LPGA receives complaints from their pro-am partners. Now the tour is taking it one step further.

"The bottom line is, we don't have a job if we don't entertain," Lunke said. "In my mind, that's as big a part of the job as shooting under par."

In a pro-am tournament, amateurs get to pay for the privilege of playing 18 holes alongside real professionals. But I guess it's not so much fun when your partner doesn't speak your language. To protect a crucial revenue stream, the LPGA is tightening the rules.

But that's not all. The next question is: Are there really "more fans, more media and more sponsors?" Or is South Korean dominance threatening the tour's popularity? A little more than a month ago, the Korean blog "The Marmot's Hole" highlighted an article by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Jeffrey Slaton, suggesting that the Korean onslaught was spelling trouble for the tour.

The LPGA needs a wake-up call.

After watching a South Korean woman win for the third consecutive week on the LPGA Tour, something needs to change...

...Attendance wasn't good, and television ratings were awful.

That alone should tell the LPGA something needs to change. And it better change quickly or the LPGA Tour is going to go the way of the WNBA, a well-run professional league with very little interest from the general public.

Slaton was careful not to blame the South Koreans -- who accounted for 8 of the final 12 golfers on the concluding day of the tournament -- for being superb golfers. His ire was directed at the LPGA for not doing more to encourage and foster locally-grown golfing talent.

Because it's not really about whether or not the golfers speak English -- it's all about the television ratings.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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