In 2008, the Ladies Professional Golf Association proposed penalties for players who were unable or unwilling to speak English on tour. The proposal was not well-received, to put it mildly, and the resulting furor eventually led Commissioner Carolyn Bivens to resign.
The idea came about largely because players from South Korea were so reluctant to speak English. As it turns out, they were simply embarrassed and self-conscious about their English skills, especially after one of the South Korean women was called out in a Canadian newspaper for calling Sponge Bob Squarepants “Spongie Bob.”
Now, according to the New York Times, the LPGA has taken a different approach, offering players the option of gaining foreign language skills via a partnership with a company called Language Training Center. Company representatives accompany the players on tour and offer one-on-one coaching.
The courses have become quite popular. Some players take them to build up and fine-tune their English skills, while English-speaking players study other languages. The lessons go beyond just vocabulary to include information about cultural expectations, like how to receive gifts and how to sign autographs, information that is helpful to players as they become international stars.
Even though they must pay for them out of pocket, the lessons are a boon to players like Ai Miyazato, currently the highest-ranked player. Miyazato is actually quite proficient in English, but under the glare of the spotlight, she freezes up, and often by the end of a press appearance she has reverted back to her native Japanese. She told the New York Times:
“I feel like my English is still not enough. I want the people to get to know me a little, but I get nervous.”