Their names are hard to pronounce, they don't laugh at all the sponsors' jokes in the pro-ams, and some of their fathers may fudge a bit on the rules.
But, I say we get off the Koreans' backs.
Thanks to the recent U.S. Women's Open, the LPGA found itself in the international spotlight of women's golf. It is also likely that with the Koreans opening up cans of whup-ass on the tour, they will catch more than their share of the publicity glare.
They've already caught more than their share of criticism for being, well, Korean.
Some LPGA veterans have blasted them for being too quiet and reserved and not speaking the language correctly. Jan Stephenson told Golf Magazine Koreans were "killing" the tour.
The LPGA puts a heavy emphasis on "selling" itself. Nothing wrong with that. It has to in order to compete with the men and survive financially.
But, not everybody is born to be a salesperson. And for Asians, with their ingrained culture of discretion and reserve, selling like an American in America could be a big problem. To my knowledge, Korea doesn't have the equivalent of Big Ernie's Car Barn.
Imagine going to a foreign country, where everybody looks and talks differently, and being asked to be an ideal representative. It's like asking Shaquille O'Neal to sell cricket in Pakistan.
While quite a few Americans are busy selling, the Koreans are out practicing.
That isn't to say Koreans on the LPGA tour don't have obligations. If they are reaping the benefits, they should do their fair share of helping the game. They just shouldn't be asked to do something they are incapable of doing.
Hey, they never had this problem when Swedes were dominating the game.
Maybe the LPGA should start serving kimchi and beer in the press tents.
Don't forget, the LPGA gets more money in television rights from Korea than any other country - including the U.S.
LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw has already called one meeting involving issues with Koreans on tour, asking them to be more sociable - I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that one - and according to GolfWorld, has called another involving a far more serious matter: cheating.
Apparently, the fathers of Koreans on tour are a lot like American Little League parents. There have been accusations that fathers have illegally coached their offspring during competition - a definite rules violation.
There have also been accusations that fathers threatened caddies, acted surreptitiously as human directional markers, and even one case where dear old dad was accused of moving his daughter's ball from behind a tree during a tournament.
This is starting to sound like an Adam Sandler movie.
There have been a couple instances of Korean players distancing themselves from overly aggressive fathers, like Se Ri Pak and Hee-Won Han, but fathers are actually respected in Korea and severing that relationship isn't so simple.
The LPGA has been accused of racial profiling for calling these meetings singling out Koreans, but that's a tough accusation to back up. It seems to me Votaw is trying to fix a problem before it becomes bigger and thereby hurting the tour and Koreans both.
Personally, I enjoy watching the Koreans, and I get plenty of chances, since there are 18 of them on the LPGA tour, nine of whom are in the top 25 money list and four among the top 10. There are another 19 in the wings, playing on the LPGA's Futures Tour.
I like their methodical nature, their hard-working approach to the game. I don't care if they smile or not. You want happy smiles, watch Phil Mickelsen.
Overall, the LPGA tour is becoming more interesting because, for one reason, it's become so international: 10 of the 12 tournament winners this year have been foreigners. There are 24 players from foreign countries on the tour, if you want to count Canada as a foreign country.
The Asian invasion can't help but make American players better. It's like the auto industry: all those badly-made American cars have been forced to improve because of the superior foreign models flooding the U.S.
If American women golfers want to sell their game better, they should rev up their engines and start catching up to the Koreans.
June 29, 2004
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