John Renslow: New heroine would help LPGA more than policy on language
Get Into Golf
Would a rose by any other name sound as sweet? Perhaps.
Yet, would a birdie by any other name sound as sweet?
The LPGA Tour leadership doesn’t think so.
In an unprecedented ruling set down by the Ladies Professional Golfers Association, international players would have had to pass an oral English evaluation or face suspension.
And though the LPGA has backed off the policy’s penalty provision late last week, it clearly saw language barriers as roadblocks to the tour’s growth in popularity.
Recently, there has been a decline in broadcast ratings and attendance. It seems that Tour leadership feels a cause could be a disconnect between the players and the fans. According to Golfweek magazine, Rae Evans, a member of the LPGA Board of Directors said, “I don’t think you get a pass on an issue as important as language proficiency. The world of business won’t allow it.”
Now, since we have enough politics in the air currently, I am not going to take sides on this issue. However, I am curious, do you think this is the answer to the LPGA’s declining popularity and fewer television viewers?
People may forget that the PGA Tour had a cyclical decline in popularity following the glory years of Jack, Lee, and Tom in the mid 1980s.
Over a decade later, it was Tiger who led the boost in television ratings for the PGA Tour.
Sure, you had Freddie, Faldo, and the wee little Woosie (that would be Ian Woosnam) in the interim, but there was no enduring, obvious star. Although we love Freddie, he was not Mr. Personality on the course and Faldo didn’t let his entertaining side interrupt his play. Also, they all had their moments, just not the memorable head-to-head match ups that we talk about the next day in our local Pro Shop.
You don’t even need a specific rival. It’s kind of like Batman; the hero can take on a different challenger every week. The important thing is that you’re watching an epic.
No hero, no epic.
Whomever Tiger takes on, Phil or Vijay or Sergio, it’s still a spectacle.
This, I believe, is why the LPGA Tour is experiencing a downturn. Annika Sorenstam, the LPGA’s heroine has not played well for the past couple of years and, admitting a change of priorities, has decided to retire from competitive golf at the end of this season.
No hero, no epic.
Granted, all of these heroes are at least conversational in English. So, it remains to be seen if one could break through and take the lead without being clearly understood. But to make it a requirement may be perceived as exclusionary or discriminatory.
They’re not taking a driver’s exam or trying to get a diploma, they’re playing golf, at a high level.
Other televised sports have players who are not proficient in English. Major League Baseball has a significant number of players from Central America and Asia, the NBA has players from Asia and Europe. There is no requirement from these sports for the players to speak a certain language. Their teammates often help them learn the language, which benefits the individuals and the team.
It is probably in the best interests of the players to be conversational, if not fluent, in English for convenience and endorsement/income opportunities. However, as Tina Matsuoka of the National Asian Pacific American Association stated, “We don’t see that English proficiency is something that is necessary to compete and excel at the game of golf.”
The question begs, is it best for the game to put this type of requirement on its players? (There already are a host of others, i.e. types of apparel, endorsements, pro-am participation, etc.)
Is golf an international game or an American game?
Will regulations increase the game’s popularity?
The jury is out.
The LPGA Tour is a solid organization and will rebound from its current slump. It will improve, guaranteed. Right now, there are a host of reasons to dial into an LPGA event; fiery Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis (followed by golfers and non-golfers alike), and the odyssey known as Michelle Wie.
Hopefully sooner, rather than later our future heroine will emerge in the line of Nancy Lopez or Annika Sorenstam. Lorena Ochoa or Paula Creamer might just be the one.
This, more than anything else, might inspire more folks to tune in or buy a ticket.
John Renslow is general manager and director of golf at Alta Sierra Country Club. Please contact John with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Hank Sowell’s introduction to the game of golf came early as a set of clubs was among the gifts he received on his very first birthday.