LPGA Makes Bold, Reckless Statement

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Starting at the end of the 2009 season the LPGA will require players to establish English proficiency or face suspension. Golf, and all major individual sports, rely heavily on communication skills to engage fans and capture sponsors. Recently foreign players have dominated the LPGA, particularly South Koreans. However, the LPGA’s decision is short sighted, reeks of desperation, and will generate negative publicity.

Tour officials rode Annika Sorenstam for the past decade and counted on Michelle Wie to become the LPGA answer to Tiger Woods. With Sorenstam retiring at the end of this season and Wie just struggling to make cuts, LPGA popularity is plummetting. The tour recently cancelled a 2009 event because it could not replace the event’s title sponsor. Networks continue to cutback LPGA television coverage, and the tour has not received much interest in its attempt to bundle television rights for a national contract for 2009. This announcement says tour officials think that South Korean dominance has turned off American fans to the sport, and the only way to correct that is to American-ize the sport.

No other American league has mandated language requirements before, which makes the LPGA appear biased to an extent. A move intended to make the sport more likeable in America, may actually turn off fans that interpret the rule as racist. Further, if non-English speaking players begin leaving the tour or getting suspended, the quality of play will diminish. The LPGA will realize a lower quality product will hurt attendance and popularity much more than foreign player dominance.

The announcement is blunt and lacks the sensitivity that these issues require. If the LPGA wanted headlines, this will get them, but at what cost. WIll sponsors be willing to deal an entity that can be viewed as discriminatory? Will networks suddenly make room for LPGA tournaments? Sports fans tune in to watch players, not hear them speak. More than any sport, golf is played in silence. Outside of a press conference or two minute interview after the 18th hole, how often do players appear during tournaments? English speaking players is not the LPGA’s problem, lack of interest is, and that can only be fixed by improving the product and marketing it better.

A better move for the tour is to embrace the international flair these players provide. Take the game global. Follow the NBA lead in China, bring the game to new countries, to the places where these new star players hail from. Create a more public Ryder Cup type competition to pit the young American stars against the emerging sensations from overseas. Tour management should focus on the positives the tour’s current composition, not change the players to fit their ideal preference.

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3 Responses

  1. A better move would have been for the LPGA to update it’s name to the WPGA, similar to the WNBA. That would be going in the right direction.

  2. Yes of course .. let’s not have any “Ladies” anymore .. and no shorts .. only Hillary Clinton approved pantsuits allowed.

    A perfectly rational decision and one that all players should understand and embrace.

  3. I think it is about time. I live in Japan. Japan is Okay but I hate toi bash countries but Korea have been very successful on the LPGA tour but don’t give back to the community. I can’t say I know everything but When I saw a Korean win a tournament over here in Japan in dramatic fashion. All She could muster up is an ARIGATO. But it is also to blame for the host nation or language to supply an interpreter. It’s a two edged sword.!

    Greta writing keep it up!

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