English-Only Golf Rule Doesn't Make Par

South Korean golfer Seon Hwa Lee 2007/7/22 AP Photo

Under increasing criticism, the LPGA Tour on Friday backed off a proposed policy that would have suspended players who could not efficiently speak English.

LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens said she would announce a revised plan by the end of the year, although it would not include penalties.

Bivens disclosed the tour's original plan in a meeting with South Korean players at the Safeway Classic in Portland, Ore., two weeks ago, which was reported by Golfweek magazine. The policy, which had not been completed, was widely criticized as discriminatory, particularly against Asian players, who won three majors this year.

"We have decided to rescind those penalty provisions," Bivens said in a statement. "After hearing the concerns, we believe there are other ways to achieve our shared objective of supporting and enhancing the business opportunities for every tour player."

The announcement came two hours before the Asian Pacific American Legal Center planned a news conference in Los Angeles, where it was to be joined by civil rights groups and elected officials demanding the LPGA overturn its policy.

A California state senator was seeking a legal opinion to determine whether the tour's language requirement for players violated state or federal law. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, hoped for an answer before the LPGA Tour returned to California in October for the Samsung World Championship.

He had asked the Legislature's legal office to examine whether the English policy violated any state or federal anti-discrimination laws. If it was deemed legal, Yee said he would have pushed for legislation banning such policies in California.

"I'm very pleased that the LPGA saw the wisdom of the concerns that we raised. It's a no-brainer for those of us who have been the recipient of these kinds of discriminatory acts," Yee said on Friday.

He said he understood the tour's goal of increasing financial support but disagreed with its approach.

"In 2008, I didn't think an international group like the LPGA would come up with a policy like that," Yee said. "But at the end of the rainbow, the LPGA did understand the harm that they did."

The lawmaker said he will continue with his request to the Legislative Counsel's Office, as a way to prevent similar policies in the future.

Another California lawmaker, Assemblyman Ted Lieu, said he had planned to target the LPGA's corporate sponsors if the tour had persisted with the English requirement. He called its policy indefensible.

"I'm pleased they have come to their senses," he said Friday.

Lieu, a Democrat from the Los Angeles area, said the LPGA's explanation for its requirement made it appear as if the tour was telling players it was more important for them to "schmooze" with sponsors than to play golf.

"If you're a sports fan, you should be outraged," Lieu said.

One of the tour's title sponsors, State Farm, said it was "dumbfounded" by the initiative.

"We don't understand this, and we don't know why they have done it," State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs told Advertising Age on its Web site. "And we have strongly encouraged them to take another look at this."

Bivens said the tour will continue to help international players through a cultural program that has been in place for three years and offers tutors and translators.
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