Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Patti Rizzo Story

Randall Mell has highlighted the relevance of Patti Rizzo's story for those who continue to ponder the LPGA's English proficiency requirement for membership after 2 years on tour. During her eventual Rookie of the Year season in 1982, Rizzo struck up a friendship with Japanese superstar Ayako Okamoto that blossomed into a 9-win career for her on the JLPGA--and superstar standing in Japan--in the 1980s and 1990s. A 2003 Futures Tour newsletter adds a bit more to the story, but the bottom line is that a well-planned cross-cultural mentoring program--in which an American and an international player help each other, among other things, develop their non-dominant language--could open doors and extend careers for everyone involved. Of course, not every pairing would turn out to be as meaningful or successful as the Rizzo-Okamoto friendship (for background, see the interview and ceremony for Okamoto's 2005 induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame), but if even one were to, the program would be a huge success.

When will the monolingual Americans on tour realize that it's to their economic benefit to be learning other languages? When you compare the JLPGA and JGTO money lists and tournament schedules, for instance, you'll find that there are far greater opportunities for American women than men in Japan. American players should be pressuring the LPGA to do far more to attract more Japanese and other top JLPGA players to the States. Unless they roll out the welcome mat to their international peers, the LPGA's standing as the best women's tour in the world could be in jeopardy over the next decade, particularly if their tour's language policy provides incentives for the next great Asian players to make like Yuri Fudoh or Ok Hee Ku instead of Ayako Okamoto or Se Ri Pak.

[Update 1 (2:52 am): Eric Adelson shows why this kind of proposal makes a lot more sense than the LPGA's emphasis on high-stakes testing and high-risk penalties. I've excerpted other suggestions I made in an email to Lisa Mickey in an update to my last attempt to be constructive here.]

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