The Chosun Ilbo has a pretty level-headed story on it today. An excerpt:
How proficient is their English? First-generation golfers such as Pak Se-ri and Kim Mi-hyun, who blazed the trail to the LPGA Tour, have no problem because they learned English for survival. Grace Park, Park In-bee, and Gloria Park, who learned to play golf in the U.S. and Australia when they were young, can speak English almost as fluently as native speakers.
Some players who left Korea for the U.S. only four or five years ago do have problems speaking English. They have played on the LPGA Tour in a favorable atmosphere created by the first-generation Korean golfers and had no big problems because the LPGA even employed Korean staff for their convenience.
It would be quite embarrassing, I think, if these women ended up not being able to speak, though, given that they've had a year to prepare, have studied the language since grade school, and have been exposed to the language their whole lives. I don't remember where I read it, but it suggested that this English push was part of a larger plan to make the LPGA more attractive to viewers and sponsors. In fact, Libba Galloway, deputy commissioner of the LPGA, said "We live in a sports-entertainment environment," and
“Being a U.S.-based tour, and with the majority of our fan base, pro-am contestants, sponsors and participants being English speaking, we think it is important for our players to effectively communicate in English.”
That business about "sports entertainment" is especially low. First of all, it's women's golf, a popular sport American women participate in, but few watch on TV or follow in the papers. Second, the focus on entertainment has caused problems before, hasn't it, since women's golf's biggest name is Michelle Wie, a woman who stubbornly insists to compete with the men but who fails every time. She is becoming golf's Anna Kournikova, an athlete known more for her sex appeal and celebrity than for any skills she might have. Finally, some of the biggest names in American sports leagues are foreign, players that spoke little to no English before arriving, yet who have gone on to be among the best in their respective leagues. Yao Ming in basketball, Ichiro Suzuki in baseball, to name only two, plus the countless European players in the NHL. Closer to home, Mario Lemieux spoke no English when he came from Quebec to Pittsburgh in 1984, but went on to become fluent, to be among the greatest Pittsburgh athletes in history, and to eventually buy the team. The US might not be the most foreigner-friendly environment---but hey, at least foreigners get a chance to play---but the evidence shows it's ridiculous to say foreigners are bad for business. East Windup Chronicle has a little more on the potential trend toward the "Sexy LPGA."
You'll find more intelligent commentary on this elsewhere, from people who know more about the culture of golf and who are . . . well, more intelligent. What caught my eye flipping through the papers was how, underneath the Chosun Ilbo's piece, was some related articles that ran in the paper. Like I said, their article is level-headed, but I was curious going in since I wondered how indignant a paper could be after writing an article titled "Korean Golfers 'Invade' U.S. Women's Open."
Oh, and of course there's the classic "Culture, Social Factors Behind Success of Korean LPGA Golfers," which we looked at before, and its coverage of why one Korean professor believes Korean women are so good at golf:
Among the factors Shin attributed to the success of female Korean golfers were 1) the Korean "Golf Boom" that began in the 1980s; 2) the toughness of Korean women; 3) the close father-daughter relationship in Korea in which fathers are quite indulgent of their daughters; and 4) excellent hand-eye coordination that is a product of a culture in which women traditionally sew and people use chopsticks.
You all know my weakness, and know I can't talk about Korean women golfers without bringing up this article.
What enables South Korean lady golfers to be so formidable in the U.S. LPGA Tour? It is nothing less than the Koreans' talent to make things skillfully with their hands, a trait handed down from generation to generation for thousands years. Celadon in Koryo and the Yi dynasty are world famous for blue and white china in quality, and you know that pottery involves the same skills as playing golf.
Not to change the subject, South Koreans' special talent to make things skillfully with their hands is also believed to greatly contribute to their making almost a clean sweep of the World Skills Competition. By the same token, Koreans are good at various sports that are played chiefly with the hands: handball, archery and table tennis, to name a few.
Professor Hwang Woo-suk of the Seoul National University who led the first cloning of embryonic human stem cells told in a public lecture that one of his assistants surprised the stem cell big shots of the world with his skills, which were beyond their imagination but actually nothing for Koreans. Professor Hwang, referring to the use of chopsticks, mentioned that the Koreansâ€™ skill with their hands contributed to their success in cloning embryonic human stem cells.
An editor golf fan of an English daily newspaper mentioned that one of the root causes for Korean ladies to play such great golf in the U.S. is closely connected to dexterity, which is also critical to preparing delicious Kimchi, a Korean side dish loved by the people around the world.
Japanese, who also use chopsticks like Koreans, once produced a golf great named Ayako Okamoto, who became a member of the LPGA Tour in 1981 and won 17 events between 1982 and 1992. She was recorded as the first woman from outside the U.S. to top the LPGA tour’s money list in 1987. Among Japanese golfers playing in the PGA of America is Shigeki Maruyama, who is often compared to South Korean golfer Kyung-ju Choi. Despite this, the Japanese do not surpass Koreans in the golf world possibly because they do not attach as much importance to the hands in preparing foods. They use sashimi knife in preparing raw fish, their all-time favorite, instead of directly using hands as Koreans do.
Similarly, the Chinese do not distinguish themselves as much as Koreans in the LPGA tour of America because they do not stress the role of hands in making foods. Their food culture features fire. Mostly they use fire to create taste instead of using their hands. Among Chinese golfers, Hong Mei Yang became the first Chinese player to win a tournament in the United States in April 2004 by capturing the IOS Futures Golf Classic in El Paso, Texas, the developmental circuit for the LPGA Tour.
Of course, there are some other factors that make all the great achievements possible including tenacity and indomitability, two characteristics of Koreans, along with quite a lot of synergy among the South Korean golfers. But without the dexterity unique to Koreans their great success would be hard to imagine.
I'll say it again, that's the worst use of "not to change the subject" I've ever seen.
Tangential to all this, perhaps, but if this story does become big news in Korea---which I expect it will---I wonder if it will call attention to the caps on foreign players in place in the professional volleyball, baseball, and basketball leagues here. Granted these leagues don't attract top talent from around the world, as US leagues profess to do, but I wonder if any outrage directed at the LPGA will cause people to reexamine the quotas in place in Korea's pro leagues.