Ron Agostini

October 8, 2008

Agostini: LPGA learns its language lesson

Just what golf needed -- more charges of exclusion.

Earlier this year, the LPGA Tour -- weary of the domination of non-English-speaking Koreans -- mandated conversational English from all its members. It was designed to enhance the marketability of its players and the entertainment value for spectators and viewers.

What it was, of course, was blatant discrimination.

Golf's elitist past still gnaws at the game's conscience, from its choosy private clubs all the way back to the whites-only rule on the PGA Tour that wasn't withdrawn until 1961. Progress has been made -- Tiger Woods' presence says it all -- but the process remains slow and, at times, painful.

The LPGA Tour probably didn't factor in the backlash it spawned. I'd like to believe Tour Commissioner Carolyn Bivens had the best of intentions here. Women's professional golf constantly works at improving its image, and there's good business behind putting smiles on the faces of everyone from pro-am players to title sponsors.

Problem was, when the Tour required its players to be conversant in English by 2009, a major sponsor (State Farm) threatened repercussions. Even the legality of its proposal was called into question. It didn't take long for the LPGA to retreat and suspend its plans.

At the very least, the tour's timing couldn't have been worse.

Forty-five South Koreans have competed in 2008, and they accounted for eight of 11 wins at one point. Last year, nine different Americans won. This year, only Paula Creamer, Cristie Kerr, Angela Stanford and Leta Lindley have claimed the top trophy. The winners of the majors were Lorena Ochoa (Mexico), Yani Tseng (Taiwan), Inbee Park (South Korea) and Ji-Yai Shin (South Korea).

Contestants from 26 nations and four continents have graced this tour for several years, and yet language constrictions weren't raised until recently. Why was there no corresponding rule for English-speaking players in the eight other countries that welcome LPGA tournaments?

Golf World correspondent Ron Sirak reported on a joke Europeans like to repeat on tour: What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? American.

Let's be real: The LPGA Tour has done a great job in its transition to a global entity. Boatloads of money have been made, but Bivens and company can't expect the cash flow to continue if they're alienating players and cultures.

The LPGA can help by holding English seminars and other assistance, but the ultimate answer is a natural process. The Koreans and other foreign-born champions will grasp the essential point: Vast success awaits them, especially if they learn even fundamental English. The marketplace dictates that truth.

But forcing new policy -- with punitive action hanging over all players -- not only wasn't good business, it wasn't American.

THE SHAG BAG -- Several golf courses in the area -- among them Diablo Grande -- are using the PlanetAir aerating machine to service their greens this fall. PlanetAir is activated once a month and delivers a small hole for quick recovery and playable surfaces within a day of application. It also cuts the major green-punching project to only once per year. ... Geoff Podgorny, former assistant pro at financially troubled Winchester, is the new head professional at Saddle Creek in Copperopolis. Podgorny, raised in Sacramento, worked at Winchester since its opening eight years ago. Dan Thompson, formerly of Visalia, is the Saddle Creek assistant pro. ... Greg Miranda, an 8-handicapper from Modesto, shot a 72 at Creekside from the white tees, matching his age for the second time this year. ... Barry Jenkin of Chowchilla lowered the course record at Pheasant Run with his 31-31 -- 62, capped by an eagle at the 18th.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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