The LPGA must be really desperate. Like other professional women's sports, attendance, ratings, and general public interest is low, so sponsors are scarce.
A few years ago the LPGA Tour embarked on a marketing journey designed to discover new talent, increase competitiveness, increase media exposure, increase popularity, and as a result, increase player paychecks.
Whether you agree with the strategy or not, it has been marginally effective. The LPGA’s player guidelines emphasize Five Points of Celebrity: Appearance, Relevance, Approachability, Joy/Passion and Performance.
Notice the order, performance is last on the list. This, in my opinion, is genius.
Women's sports cannot ever attract male fans with pure performance. The reason may be sexist, but it is a universal truth: average men think they can always beat women at sports, no matter the level. Have you heard the WNBA commercials attempting to dispute it? The fact that it is the focus of the WNBA marketing campaign supports its existence.
Appearance is first on the list. Again, not politically correct, but accurate. Why do you think women's beach volleyball had such high ratings at the Olympics? Sand?
Approachability is on the list because communication skills really matter when a player is entertaining fans and event sponsors, something all players are required to do periodically.
If this were amateur golf at the high school or college level, taxpayers would be funding it, there would be no need for fans, and they could afford to be politically correct.
Unfortunately for the international players, the LPGA Tour is a capitalist endeavor that needs male fans to spend their personal disposable income on watching women's golf instead of NASCAR or College Football. Tough competition.
One of the ways the LPGA Tour and all professional golf tours make money and generate fan interest is from pre-tournament pro-am events. A pro-am is where an individual or company can pay to play golf in a practice round, on the same golf course, a day or two before the actual tournament, with a touring professional. It is very, very lucrative and adds immensely to the tournament purse. It benefits all players.
Think about how much you would play to toss a football around for a few hours on the Saturday before a game with Brett Favre. Well, that's how much the professional golf tours charge for a Tuesday foursome with Si Re Pak.
Now think about how appealing that would be if Brett Favre didn't speak to you the entire time. Not quite as much, right? Players on all professional golf tours are fined if their pro-am partners complain about unfriendliness.
With 121 foreign-born players currently on the LPGA tour, communication issues have arisen. I have heard it suggested that an interpreter would solve this problem. Maybe it would help for press conferences and victory speeches, but not for pro-ams.
Professional golf is unique in this access to the participants. NASCAR does a good job with similar pre-race access to the pits, but it isn't quite riding around the track in the car with Casey Kahne for a of couple hours.
This is why the LPGA implemented the English speaking rule. If you haven't heard, starting next season the LPGA requires players who have played on the U.S. LPGA Tour for two years or more to pass a verbal English test. If they cannot pass it, they are temporarily suspended while a tutor is assigned to help them work toward passing it. As soon as they do pass it, they can play again. Their tour card is never revoked.
Blatant racism, right?
Many of the foreign players on tour happen to be Korean. Some of the Korean players speak English well, having played college golf in the U.S., but many do not.
I foresee other nationalities sending more players to the U.S. LPGA tour in the future as golf continues its globalization, but for now, this rule is assumed to be directed at the large contigent of Korean players.
In fact, the LPGA has a tour called the LPGA of Korea Tour that promotes the game and provides professional playing opportunities to women in South Korea and other Asian countries.
It is specifically designed to groom future LPGA Tour players from these countries. The LPGA tour welcomes them—once they can qualify—with open arms and a tour card, which is a ticket to millions of dollars annually in potential sponsorship dollars and potential tournament winnings.
Racism is disgusting, isn't it?
The LPGA has apparently determined that they need pro-am participants to continue paying money to play with their professionals in order for the tour to remain solvent.
You can argue with the LPGA Tour but it doesn't matter. I don't think it's unacceptable for Korean, Russian, Argentinian and Martian players to learn a little English within two years of being given the opportunity to be millionaires.
The alternative is that the tours can fold and nobody gets anything.
Photo of the victorious Grace Park from South Korea courtesy of Golf.com