What Was the LPGA Thinking?

Requiring English Proficiency Is Shameful

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Bill Imada Bill Imada
I apologize for my silence over the past few months. I've been completely distracted by the Olympics and most recently by the Democratic National Convention. I'll talk about these events at another time.

I decided to wait for a day before I write this blog post, hoping that I'd be able to find some cogent reason and explanation behind the latest action taken by the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

For those of you who do not follow golf nor sporting news, LPGA leaders recently decided to require their non-English-speaking members, many of whom have been on the LPGA Tour for two years or more, to be proficient in English before they are allowed to participate in LPGA-sanctioned events. In other words, the LPGA is asking its card-holding members who participate in the golf tournament circuit to be able to pass an exam in English or face suspension from LPGA play.

Well, the last time I checked, the LPGA is an organization that has sponsors based in the U.S. and other countries. Its membership is truly international and includes 121 golfers from outside of the U.S., representing more than two dozen countries. And, while the LPGA has its roots in the Western Hemisphere, it has benefited heavily from the growing interest in golf in a number of major industrialized countries as well as developing countries around the world -- including nations in Asia, Latin America and the Pacific Rim.

Requiring that its members and players be proficient in English makes no sense. And the thought of suspending members who aren't proficient in English seems unnecessarily harsh and, even worse, discriminatory and unlawful. The LPGA should be ashamed of itself.

For years, the LPGA provided an opportunity and haven for women who were admonished for their interest in golf by creating programs and events that encouraged their full participation in the sport. Now this same group is creating barriers for other women -- who speak languages other than English -- that would keep them from participating in events solely because they choose to speak languages other than the one officially sanctioned by LPGA leaders.

My personal belief is that the LPGA is afraid of the growing number of Asian women -- especially Koreans and Korean Americans -- who have excelled in this sport. Are they afraid that future LPGA business is going to be conducted in Korean or some other language? Or are they worried that LPGA sponsors will leave if golfers on the circuit aren't able to engage in languages they don't understand or even want to understand?

Please.

The LPGA board members include representatives of companies that are leaders in the realm of diversity, inclusion and engagement: Deloitte & Touche, PepsiCo and Xerox. Were they consulted on this policy? And were they informed of the motivation behind it?

My staff has told me that the LPGA wants its foreign players to be more engaged with fans, sponsors and other golfers. But we all agree that there are other ways to engage international golfers to help and even entice them to be more engaging. How about media and spokesperson training? How about mentorships and coaching? None of this should be mandated; rather, they should be used as tools to offer incentives for personal growth and advancement.

If the LPGA is concerned about future sponsorship opportunities, it should be cultivating them now. Diversity, inclusion and engagement are the buzzwords of the marketing world today. There are dozens of U.S. and international companies that have adopted policies, strategies and marketing plans that encourage more organizations such as the LPGA to represent the diversity of our country and the rest of the world.

If I were a marketer, I would think twice about supporting an organization that openly discriminates against its members and potential members solely because they choose to speak a language other than English. Social, professional and political advancement shouldn't be tied to one's ability to speak English. Instead, golf should be judged by skill, knowledge of the game, professionalism, future potential and sportsmanship.

The LPGA should be encouraging its members to learn more about their international colleagues and be more accepting of the diversity that exists all around us. This latest policy is a huge step backward, and the LPGA should reverse this policy immediately.

I welcome your comments.
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