Jul
15
2009
Don’t Blame the Asians
By Stephanie Wei under General

On Monday, Golf Channel’s Laura Baugh suggested that non-English-speaking (read: Asian, mostly Korean) players were part of the reason for Carolyn Bivens’ demise. Really? Well, maybe the English-speaking (read: American) players should step it up. And how much of a difference would it have made if Cristie Kerr had won on Sunday? Would it actually have boosted the popularity of the LPGA? Doubtful. Would more people start watching women’s golf every week? Would sponsors be calling immediately to sign contracts? I’d like to think so, but in reality, an American winning wouldn’t have made a noticeable difference (unless it had been Michelle Wie hoisting the trophy).

I’m tired of people blaming the Asian players for why the LPGA is struggling. It doesn’t matter who wins if we get to see good golf. On Monday my friend called to tell me that he watched women’s golf for the first time on Sunday. And he enjoyed it mostly because Eun-Hee Ji dropped that final putt.

In all fairness, the post-round interview was awkward. But like I mentioned on Sunday, it wasn’t because I personally had a problem with Ji speaking via a translator. It was because I knew the criticism that would ensue. By that, I mean, people would play the blame game. I find it insanely offensive. It’s not because I’m biased as a Chinese-American either. I’m pretty sure plenty of “white” people would agree with me.

Sure, it would have been better if Ji had spoken English. When Anna Nordqvist was interviewed after winning the LPGA Championship, she spoke English but stumbled over her words. I think mostly because, like Ji, she was overcome with emotion. I wonder if anyone would have cared had Anna spoken Swedish. Probably not. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. Go ahead and disagree, but let’s be real, we’d let it slide because she’s not “another” Asian player.

I’ve browsed over a few message boards where commenters have dared to suggest limiting the number of Korean players allowed to play on the “American” tour. Or some argue they should go back and compete in Asia. Yeah, those “rules” would be well-received (not that any suggestion of the sort would ever be taken seriously). Just like the “English-only” policy was such a great idea.

Comparable to their work ethic on the golf course, the Koreans are studying hard to improve their English-speaking skills. They know that effectively communicating in English would benefit them. They know that interacting with sponsors would improve their chances of getting endorsements. They work with tutors and use tools like Rosetta Stone. In fact, the players who don’t speak proficient English are required to enroll in the LPGA’s Cross-Cultural Program.

Most of the Korean-born ladies are young and haven’t been in the US or on Tour for very long. Eun-Hee Ji is 23. Song-Hee Kim is 21. Ji-Young Oh is 21. Jiyai Shin and In-Kyung Kim are also 21 – Jiyai’s English is decent and IK’s is excellent. But we can’t expect them all to be fluent overnight. How would we fare if we went to Korea? It’d likely take us longer to learn Korean than for them to learn English. Give them some time.

The LPGA and agents need to figure out how to market these players or do a better job of it. Many are more reserved because it’s simply a cultural divide. Do we want them to “change” too? They can be marketed by being who they are. I’m sure if the LPGA and agents were to try a tad harder, then they could identify ways to play up their strengths and personalities. Not everyone is going to have star-quality or be relatable, but it’s not like there’s a shortage of choices. More players should be featured regularly so we can get to know them and differentiate one from another. As for specific strategies, the Constructivist presented some great ideas back in June.

There’s more talent in women’s golf than ever before. The international players are strengthening the competition. It’s not by accident they’re so good. They practice more. And it’s just going to push the Americans to work harder if they want to win consistently. We’ll see even better, more exciting golf as a result – coming from players of all nationalities.