English-Only LPGA: Hole-In-One or Serious Slice?
I'm sure you've heard by now that the LPGA is requiring players to be proficient in English by next year or risk losing their tour status.
The move has been called "unsportsmanlike," "un-American" and even racist, but the question that hasn't really been answered is: exactly how good is it for business?
Seven of the LPGA's Top 20 players are Korean and seven of the last 11 wins on the tour have been won by Asians, some of whom needed an interpreter for their victory speeches.
The perception, of course, is that title sponsors would at least like to be thanked by the champion after ponying up the bucks to have their name on the event and that this, in turn, is lowering the value of the entire LPGA property.
But I'm not so sure that the LPGA has it right. I think the WNBA was actually closer to nailing it when they caused a bit of a controversy earlier this year, after word circulated that they were giving their incoming rookies makeup classes.
The line is sex sells, not language sells.
That's why in a recent poll, almost three times as many golf fans said they would rather play a round of golf with Natalie Gulbis than Lorena Ochoa. To refresh your memory, Natalie Gulbis has won one LPGA tournament in almost 180 starts. Ochoa has won six LPGA tournaments this year.
It's why if all the predictions about Michelle Wie came true, it actually wouldn't hurt if she just spoke Korean.
I'm not going to get into the subjective business of judging which of the Koreans are good looking and which aren't. I'd rather get back to the language question.
Would the endorsements really be coming to Ji-Yai Shin if she spoke English? As of now, her hat and shirt are filled with the alphabet of a Korean sponsor. Did it hurt Ji Young Oh, who's sponsored by Emerson Pacific, a Korean golf course operator, when -- despite speaking English to reporters throughout the tournament -- she asked for an interpreter to after she won it?
Women's Open champion Inbee Park happens to speak English. Her clothing sponsor isn't Nike or adidas, it's Birdy & Grace, which she wears because her friend designs the shirts. Doesn't seem like learning the language made her all that marketable.
As Ken Hartis of "Hound Dog's LPGA Blog" rightly noted: "It's not like the majority of American media paid attention to what Yani Tseng or Ji Young Oh said after they won, anyway."
The LPGA doesn't want to be resigned to its niche sport status. I understand. And, for argument's sake, I'm curious to see what would happen if English was universally spoken. But the bullying of its players to "speak English or else" might actually be worse for the tour than the perceived negative of a Korean player conducting interviews with an interpreter.
The problem for the LPGA is that even sex isn't selling these days: For the past couple of years, the average tournament television rating was around a 0.9. The final round of the Jamie Farr Classic this year was won by one of the tour beauties, Paula Creamer. Its rating? A 0.5.
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