By Mike Purkey for GlobalGolfPost
It’s great and everything that Stacy Lewis is the first American woman in 18 years to win the Rolex Player of the Year award on the LPGA Tour. But the most groundbreaking, wide-ranging, hand-clapping event to happen to the LPGA in years took place in a minute or less on Golf Channel during the telecast of the CME Group Titleholders last Thursday.
In that segment, So Yeon Ryu and Sun Young Yoo (yes, as a matter of fact, I did have to go look up their names) talked – in remarkable English – about the differences in their names, their games and their personalities. I found out more about two prominent Korean players on the LPGA Tour in 30 seconds than I knew in the past five years.
In case you were wondering, So Yeon Ryu is this year’s Rookie of the Year even though she won the U.S. Women’s Open last year. And Sun Young Yoo won the Kraft Nabisco, the first of the women’s major championships, earlier this year. Yeon and Young sound alike, while Yoo and Ryu are pronounced the same way. And on Golf Channel, the players had fun telling us about the differences and similarities.
Whoever thought of this should get an expensive bottle of wine, a steak dinner and next weekend off. And they should be asked to do it again – and again. We’ve been waiting a long time for someone to tell us more about the young (or is it Yeon?) women on the LPGA Tour who come from Korea.
Everyone knows about the language barrier. Until now, the Korean women have been reticent to learn English. Carolyn Bivens, the previous LPGA commissioner, was right even though her bedside manner was wrong when she said that the Koreans needed to make an effort to bridge the gap.
Yani Tseng, the current No. 1 on the Rolex World Ranking, comes from Taiwan and knew little or no English when she first appeared on the LPGA Tour. But she has worked tirelessly on her second language and is wonderful in interviews both on television and in print. She proved it could be done.
Now, if this Golf Channel segment is any indication, more progress is being made. The Koreans aren’t the only foreign-born players on the LPGA Tour. The continental Europeans – Suzann Pet-tersen, Sandra Gal and Azahara Muñoz, for instance, were taught English in school and their command of the language is practically flawless.
But it’s apparently much more difficult for the Koreans because the languages are so different and they don’t get any training in school. Yet, that’s not an excuse. Like it or not, the LPGA Tour is based in the U.S. and most all the pro-am participants speak English, so the Koreans owe it to the Tour to at least make an effort to make a contribution off the course by learning the language.
It’s no accident the LPGA uses its most prominent American players in its television advertising campaign. Like it or not, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis, Morgan Pressel, Michelle Wie, and Brittany Lincicome, among others, are the faces of the Tour. And, along with Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson, the Tour needs marquee Americans to win more often to drum up more interest for women’s golf in this country.
Which is why Lewis’ four victories and 16 top-10 finishes this year was such a boost to the game. Not since Beth Daniel in 1994 has an American been Player of the Year. Granted, in between we’ve had Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Tseng, with Laura Davies and Karrie Webb sprinkled in, who dominated the Tour during those years.
This is not to imply that Lewis is the next dominant player. But she is wonderful for the women’s game. Her story is inspiring: She had scoliosis as a child and spent seven years, 18 hours a day in a body brace before she had spinal fusion surgery at age 18, with the possibility that she might never play golf again.
Remarkably, she has five wins on Tour, including last year’s Kraft Nabisco. She is the top-ranked American player at No. 2. However, the LPGA Tour is full of talented players and the pool is deep with women from all over the world.
Inbee Park leads the money list, Pettersen won in back-to-back weeks in Asia, Jiyai Shin is back to good form, Kerr got back into the winner’s circle and Tseng is working her way out of a slump.
But that alone doesn’t solve the problems of the LPGA Tour. It still needs more events, particularly in the U.S., and in an uncertain economy, title sponsors in this country are harder and harder to come by.
The product, however, is in its best shape in years, thanks to the quality of players on the course and off. If the players keep finding ways to be embraced by fans and sponsors alike, the women’s game can, in turn, find ways to grow.
Success, which comes through winning by everyone involved, is easily translated into any language.
PHOTO: Getty Images