ORLANDO, Fla. – The LPGA Tour boasts players from all over the world, and it wants all of them to be able to speak English.
The LPGA will require players to speak English starting in 2009, with players who have been LPGA members for two years facing suspension if they can't pass an oral evaluation of English skills. The rule is effective immediately for new 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."
The tour held a mandatory meeting with South Koreans last Wednesday at the Safeway Classic to inform them of the new policy, which was first reported by Golfweek magazine. There is no such rule on the PGA Tour.
There are 121 international players from 26 countries on the LPGA Tour, including 45 players from South Korea.
The South Koreans were informed of the rule, however LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens has not given them — or anyone — a written explanation, Galloway said.
But the message already appears to be lost in translation. The magazine said every South Korean player it interviewed believed she would lose her card — not be suspended — if she failed the English evaluation.
Angela Park, born in Brazil of South Korean heritage and raised in the United States, said the policy is fair and good for the tour and its international players.
"A lot of Korean players think they are being targeted, but it's just because there are so many of them," Park told the magazine.
Galloway said the LPGA is a "global tour and is not targeting any specific player or country."
Seon-Hwa Lee, the only Asian with multiple victories this year, said she works with an English tutor in the winter. Her ability to answer questions without the help of a translator has improved in her short time on tour.
"The economy is bad, and we are losing sponsors," Lee said. "Everybody understands."
The policy was endorsed by at least one tournament director, Kate Peters of the LPGA State Farm Classic.
"This is an American tour," Peters said. "It is important for sponsors to be able to interact with players and have a positive experience."
Galloway denied the move was based on sponsors and said interest in the tour has never been stronger.
"We are connecting with fans and sponsors like never before," she said. "But we want things to continue to get better, to continue to grow."