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Kevin Currie, Golf Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A story earlier this week announced to the world that the LPGA Tour is going to make all of its players learn how to speak English or face suspension.
The announcement came in a story published on Golf Week magazine's website.
This policy brings about many questions. Is this policy legal? What will the suspensions entail? Why now?
The last question might be the most obvious to answer. The root of this entire debate is the almighty dollar.
Bobby Ginn, the chairman and CEO of The Ginn Companies, LLC, said as much back in August when it was announced that his company would not continue its sponsorship of the Ginn Tribute hosted by Annika.
"The golf tournament business is primarily fueled by economic support," Ginn stated at the time. "We did everything in our power to generate the sponsorship necessary to continue with the Ginn Tribute, but given the current market and corresponding cuts in corporate spending, it was an uphill battle."
Also pulling much of its support was Safeway, which will sponsor just one event next year instead of the two it took part in the last several years. With those two out as sponsors, the tour needs to find big-money firms and companies to step up and open their bank accounts. The tour's players need to be marketable in order to do so, and speaking English is seen as a help in achieving that marketability.
The top-25 players in the Rolex Women's World Golf Rankings come from 10 countries and five continents. Currently, there are nine Koreans and two players from Japan among the top 25. The LPGA does play one event in both South Korea and Japan.
This English speaking policy is directed towards those players and the more than 120 international players on tour.
"The bottom line is, we don't have a job if we don't entertain," said Hilary Lunke, LPGA Tour player and president of the Player Executive Committee, in the Golf Week story. "In my mind, that's as big a part of the job as shooting under par."
With English being used as a second or even third language with some of the players in question, it is easy to understand why some players might have a problem with the policy.
However, Korea's Se Ri Pak and fellow Korean Jeong Jang bring up two key points in Golf Week's story while supporting the policy.
Pak said that after a win, "You're excited and not thinking in English," and Jang points out, "We just need to get confidence in the camera."
These feelings lend to what the LPGA hopes to assist players with if they do get suspended.
"What we would do is work with them on where they fell short, provide them the resources they need, the tutoring...And when we feel like they need to be evaluated again, we would evaluate," LPGA Tour deputy commissioner Libba Galloway told Golf Week.
It is believed that the greater marketability of players will lead to more lucrative sponsorship, something that could in turn help the players, and the tour, grow richer.
On the LPGA Tour, the purses range from $1.1 million to $3.25 million. There are just two events with purses over $3 million and only 13 of the 34 official events have purses that are over $2 million.
The LPGA and PGA Tour are hard to compare, but the PGA Tour has just one event under $3.5 million and that is the $3 million Reno-Tahoe Classic. The next- smallest purses are $3.5 million at the Mayakoba Golf Classic at Riviera and Puerto Rico Open. All three of those events are played opposite the three World Golf Championships events, each of which has an $8 million purse.
The LPGA obviously has a long way to go to catch up to the PGA Tour and that may never happen, but with the worldwide stars on both tours, the purses will continue to rise.
The tour does need to put this new policy in writing and spell out what the suspensions would entail. Golf Week reported that all the Korean players the publication spoke with indicated they believed they would lose their tour card instead of facing suspension if they failed the test.
As of now, the only part of the policy that is publicly known is that players who have been on tour for at least two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills at the beginning of the 2009 season. Failure of the test would result in suspension of the players membership.
"What we're saying is that the ability to speak to your pro-am partners and to the media, and for the winner to give their victory speech in English, will be one of our tournament regulations," Galloway said.
And who are many of those pro-am partners? CEOs and company big wigs that shell out big bucks to sponsor tournaments. Go figure.
CLARKE HELPS FALDO'S RYDER CUP PLANSWith injuries and big names on the outside of the points list in respect to Ryder Cup status, Darren Clarke helped European captain Nick Faldo's selection process by winning last week's KLM Open.
Clarke won for the second time on the '08 schedule and basically clinched a spot on Europe's Ryder Cup team.
Though he didn't move into the top 10 on the points list, he virtually guaranteed himself a spot by breaking through with a high-profile win.
Along with Clarke and Colin Montgomerie on the outside looking in are Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Carl Pettersson. Faldo is looking at that group and other players for his two captains picks, but Clarke winning for the second time this year seems to have clinched his selection.
Clarke, who hadn't won since 2003 prior to his title in April, was the emotional leader of the 2006 team as he competed just after his wife passed away following a long battle with cancer.
EXTRA TIDBITS- Tiger Woods was seen publicly for the first time since knee surgery earlier this week. He had prime seats for the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees games, right behind home plate. His schedule for next year remains in question as he stated earlier this week he plans on hitting balls at the beginning of the year, but isn't sure if he'll be ready to defend his title at the Dubai Desert Classic, which begins January 27.
- The PGA Tour will again take advantage of the Labor Day weekend with this week's Deutsche Bank Championship being contested Friday-to-Monday instead of the normal Thursday-to-Sunday format.
- If you missed the U.S. Amateur last weekend, you missed a stunning exhibition of golf. Danny Lee, the No. 1 amateur in the world, was 2-down after five holes, but rolled to a 5 & 4 win in the 36-hole final. He poured in 13 birdies in 32 holes on the difficult Pinehurst No. 2. Lee has stated he will remain an amateur to take advantage of the invitations to The Masters as well as U.S. Open and British Open Championships that he earned with the win.
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