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[Opinion] Golf and English

Posted August. 29, 2008 10:08,   


Tee off, fairway, bunker, hazard, green, OB, eagle, albatross, hole in one and Mulligan. All these terms are related to golf. There is probably no other sport that uses as much English as golf. It is no coincidence that golf is closely linked to English-speaking countries -- it was first played in Scotland and has been spreading worldwide. The U.S. PGA Championship and the U.S. LPGA Tour are recognized as the two leading golf associations in the world. Golf tournaments organized by the two bodies are as good as a certified check guaranteeing both money and fame.

The LPGA will require players to speak English from next year. Any player who has been a member for two years will be suspended if she cannot pass an oral English test. The LPGA says its players should be fluent in English to give a speech after winning or interview in English to please their sponsors, who spend millions of dollars on a single tour. The new regulation is disadvantageous to Korean players, as they will have to improve both their English and golf skills to play on the LPGA Tour, where only the world’s finest are invited.

A total of 121 international players in 26 countries are qualified to participate in LPGA competitions. Interestingly, 45 of the players are Korean, an overwhelming number. But more importantly, the Korean players have outstanding golfing skills, which often help them sweep competitions or have several of them make the top 10 list. U.S. President George W. Bush even called “incredible” the exceptional performance of Korean women golfers. The news might make Koreans proud but the outstanding performance of Korean women golfers has put others on the alert. It is natural for the LPGA and sponsors to think that if Asian players with poor English sweep trophies, their advertisements will be less effective and eventually upset their sponsors.

Some say the LPGA’s oral test is aimed to contain the success of Korean players. But aren’t golfing skills all that matters to win a tournament? U.S. media are also critical of the LPGA’s decision. The rule also violates human rights law that bans discrimination against race, religion and nationality. Korean players, however, are also excellent in adapting to a new environment. It wouldn’t be bad to see more Korean women golfers speaking English to the media after winning or in an interview in major LPGA competitions.

Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (jinnyong@donga.com)