Building a language barrier

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Canada's Lorie Kane doesn't think LPGA's English rule is the answer

Lorie Kane believes members of the LPGA Tour already have a universal language - golf.

But the LPGA thinks differently. It will require golfers to speak English starting in 2009, with players who have been members for two years facing suspension if they can't pass an oral evaluation of English skills.

"I am of a strong belief that, yes, we need to learn to communicate," Kane, a 12-year tour veteran, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "But whether or not you can communicate shouldn't determine whether or not you have a card on the LPGA Tour."

Starting next year, golfers on the LPGA tour, such as Hee Young Park of South Korea, will be required to pass an English language test in order to retain their tour card or face a two-year suspension. - Photo by The Associated Press

Lorie Kane believes members of the LPGA Tour already have a universal language - golf.

But the LPGA thinks differently. It will require golfers to speak English starting in 2009, with players who have been members for two years facing suspension if they can't pass an oral evaluation of English skills.

"I am of a strong belief that, yes, we need to learn to communicate," Kane, a 12-year tour veteran, told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. "But whether or not you can communicate shouldn't determine whether or not you have a card on the LPGA Tour."

The tour held a mandatory meeting with South Koreans at the Safeway Classic last Wednesday to inform them of the new policy, which will be finalized with a detailed criteria by season's end.

There are 121 international players from 26 countries on the LPGA Tour, including 45 players from South Korea. With such diversity, the tour sees the policy as a necessary step for its players.

"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."

Sixteen of the top-20 current money earners were born outside of the United States. Eight of those women are South Korean followed by two Swedes, two Australians, a Mexican, a Norwegian, a Brazilian and a Taiwanese.

There are plenty of different flags showing up on LPGA leaderboards these days.

"We are an international tour," said Kane. "The players that are playing the best are international players. And their play alone should help raise the level of the tour, which it is."

Instead of instituting a rule forcing golfers to pass an English test, Kane would prefer to see the tour do a better job of stressing the importance of communication to its foreign players. She believes that many of the South Koreans, in particular, know more English than they currently feel comfortable speaking in public and could be convinced to try harder.

It's an opinion she shares with good friend Se Ri Pak. Those two women had a conversation last week and agreed that some of the other South Korean players need to come out of their shell a bit more.

"There's a group of younger players who all they want to do is play golf," said Kane. "To show emotion and be engaging, they think it may affect their psyche. We know that that's just not the case.

"It can't be that way to continue to sell our product."

Selling the product - even if it's a player simply promoting herself - seems to be at the heart of this matter.

An example of a situation the LPGA hopes to avoid in the future occurred at the Canadian Women's Open in 2005. South Korea's Meena Lee won the event near Halifax and was unable to give media interviews or deliver an acceptance speech without the aid of a translator at that time.

"I think there was probably a bit of a lost opportunity for her as our champion to interact with the sponsors and fans," said tournament director Sean Van Kesteren. "You lose a little bit of the human element when you're using a translator."

Kane and Pak first became friends before they could even have a proper conversation.

The Canadian has seen the LPGA change and evolve a fair bit since first playing events in 1996. The tour's schedule this year includes three tournaments in Mexico along with one each in Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Canada, France and England.

That lineup alone makes Kane wonder why English has been made mandatory.

"Right now we have an awful lot of tournaments internationally and a lot of them are in Asia," she said. "I don't speak any Asian languages. If we continue to play over there, are they going to require me to speak Korean?"

Organizations: LPGA, Canadian Press, Safeway Classic The Associated Press Canadian Women

Geographic location: Canada, South Korea, United States Halifax Mexico Singapore Japan France England Asia

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  • SANDY
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    ENGLISH IS THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE. If you play on the LPGA Tour in the USA you have to be able to communicate with golf officials for rules etc . Also you should be able to give interviews to the press in English and speak to those who are paying you millions of dollars to play in the USA.

  • SANDY
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    ENGLISH IS THE INTERNATIONAL LANGUAGE. If you play on the LPGA Tour in the USA you have to be able to communicate with golf officials for rules etc . Also you should be able to give interviews to the press in English and speak to those who are paying you millions of dollars to play in the USA.