LPGA Backs Off English-Only Rule — Fixing a Bad Fix

When I worked in marketing for the New York Mets, one of my responsibilities was to get our players to interact with our sponsors. This was tougher than it sounds — although one might think that the players would realize that sponsor revenue was in part responsible for the exhorbitant salaries they receive, the fact was that most of the players just wanted to play baseball, play cards (this was in the pre-video game era) and chase women. Anything that interrupted their pursuit of these objectives was unwelcome.

Sometimes they would show up and make it clear that they would rather be anywhere else. Sometimes they wouldn’t show up at all. And there wasn’t much we could do about it — the contract language was vague, the team was winning, and Dwight Gooden had more leverage in these matters than Phil Bernstein.

So when the LPGA announced that beginning in 2009, all of their players would have to either learn English or find another way to make a living, I understood their reasoning, and sympathized — even as I knew that the policy would never stick.

A significant component of the LPGA’s marketing is pro-am events, in which golfers pay large sums to play a round with the professionals. The association makes a lot of money from the fees, and also hopes to gain positive word-of-mouth.

Part of the deal is establishing an atmosphere in which it all feels like a regular foursome. If the “ams” and the “pros” don’t speak the same language, they can’t interact much. Apparently the LPGA had been receiving some heat from amateurs who’d written large checks and then felt ignored on the course.

So the LPGA decided to force everyone to learn English. Which is kind of like burning down the house because there are ants in the kitchen. Kills the ants and creates all sorts of new problems.

The new policy angered many of the golfers, 121 of whom come from outside the United States. It created some bad feelings among major sponsors, many of whom have significant non-Anglo customer bases. And it got the attention of several governmental agencies, and probably would have wound up in court quickly.

So, inevitably, the LPGA announced yesterday that it was reversing course and revoking the rule.

Which means that they’re back to their original problem — pro-am events in which the pros can’t, or won’t, talk to the ams. It’s a problem they can’t just ignore. But if the players won’t learn to speak English, and the amateurs won’t learn to speak Korean, what’s the answer?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. In particular, I’d love to hear from the hundreds of new readers I’ve obtained by writing about Sarah Palin — even those who call her Sara Pailin.

Comments and suggestions from all are welcome — leave ’em in the Comments field below.


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4 thoughts on “LPGA Backs Off English-Only Rule — Fixing a Bad Fix

  1. I guess sending an interpreter would kind of wreck the foursome. Yes, they have a problem. But how about emphasizing to the pros that this is where their $$$ is coming from, so they should make nice? Even if there’s a language barrier, the ams would know and appreciate that the pro is trying to be friendly.

  2. I don’t know any pro golfers. Some probably connect the dots that way, and some don’t.

    But golf is such a social game that much of the value of the outing would be in the conversation — joking around, offering advice on swing or club selection, etc. And that’s what gives the amateurs the stories they can tell their buddies later.

    Take away the conversation, and it doesn’t matter how polite the pro’s are — the am’s are likely to be disappointed in the experience.

  3. You can’t be inclusive AND demand that people speak English. The primary reason for the LPGA is to give players a place to play golf. An American marketer targeting an American audience would most likely not use a Korean pro-golfer, I am guessing. If they really want something, there are interpreters. I am glad the LPGA revised this xenophobic rule.

  4. First, I’ve listened to and watched a lot of interviews with Ozzie Osbourne and Bob Dylan over the years, and I still can’t tell you what the heck they’re saying. But it never stopped me from buying their music.

    Second, I love the NBA and Charles Barkley, but quite frankly, sometimes I have an easier time understanding what Yao Ming or Manu Ginobilli are saying than what Sir Charles is saying. And as a broadcaster, communication IS his job.

    Third, I’m old enough to remember those Palmer-Nicklaus duels. People didn’t like Jack back then because he wasn’t as personable and fan-friendly as Arnie. Well, he still isn’t. But he’s improved quite a bit over the years.

    It just takes time for players to become comfortable with their game, their new-found fame, being in front of crowds, being on TV, interacting with fans, etc. And if English is not your native language, that’s just one more hurdle you need to overcome.

    So, on the one hand, I think the LPGA’s English and PR tutoring program is a great step in the right direction. You’re helping them overcome their obstacles. You’re not punishing them for not being able to overcome those obstacles. It’s a great idea.

    But, on the other hand, the idea of REQUIRING players to speak English reminds me when my grandparents first came to the US and people used to say, “why can’t YOU PEOPLE speak English?” Virtually all immigrants recognize that as just code for “Why don’t YOU PEOPLE go back to where you came from?”