FOR THE last fewyears I've taught a group of about 30 South Korean golfers, ranging from kidsto LPGA pros. I also run a Korean-only golf academy in Florida and have anotherunder construction in Korea. My involvement with these players has made meparticularly sensitive to the LPGA's recent attempt to make speaking English arequirement. It's a complex issue, and I think the LPGA and the Korean playerseach have legitimate concerns.
The LPGA mustsatisfy its financial supporters—sponsors, TV and fans. To do that the tourneeds its players to interact with people, and the players can't interact ifthey can't speak some English. I see the communication problems when I followmy pupils in pro-ams. Amateurs paired with Korean pros are often uncomfortablebecause they don't know how to converse with young women who speak little or noEnglish, while the pros are uncomfortable because they don't want to offendamateurs who have paid big bucks to play. The tense atmosphere makes theserounds difficult.
Andnon-English-speaking players are harder for the tour to market. If a playercan't speak to the media, reporters are less likely to write in-depth stories,which means the LPGA loses out on much-needed attention. Short interviews andpoor coverage also prevent the Koreans from developing public identities. Toremedy this situation, David Leadbetter has suggested that his Korean studentsadopt nicknames. It was David who helped Ju-Yun Kim, winner of the 2005 U.S.Women's Open, reinvent herself as Birdie Kim.
The Koreans Iknow and teach, including four-time winner Seon Hwa Lee (who does speakEnglish), agree with the LPGA and feel every player should speak some English.They understand how vital it is, and that's why so many Korean women golferstake English lessons. However, the problem they have—and I agree with them—isthat taking away somebody's job because she doesn't speak a certain language istoo severe a penalty. These young women have toiled for years to achievesuccess, and they're afraid of losing their right to play on the world's topwomen's tour.
September 28, 2008
Regardless, Idon't think the English issue will be a problem for long. The next generationof Korean golfers understands the importance of learning English at an earlyage. The players and their parents realize that the best golf instruction is inthe U.S., and the players will learn faster and better if they can conversewith their teachers. They also recognize that their role models—Se Ri Pak, SeonHwa Lee and K.J. Choi—all speak English, and they see how doing so enrichestheir lives in the U.S. and facilitates their ability to secure sponsors andgarner attention. Because all the young Koreans want to learn English, we haveEnglish-language classes at the Golf Academy at Sarabande, my teaching facilitynear Orlando. We'll also have English-language classes at the academy I'mopening near Seoul next spring.
The LPGA realizedit had made a mistake by proposing to suspend players if they didn't learn someEnglish, but the negative publicity from the scrapped policy will disappear.What will remain is a positive by-product: In a decade, I don't think there'llbe a Korean player who doesn't speak some English.
Mike Bender, aGolf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, runs Mike Bender Golf Academies.
by JIM GORANT
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