It is easy to misunderstand the LPGA's new learn-English-damn-it directive to its players. After all, several Koreans thought that if they didn't pass the proficiency test, they would lose their tour cards.
In fact, what it means is this: Within three years, all players will wear swimsuits while playing, the tinier the better. Because in these dire economic times, nothing says success with the sponsors quite like a well-crafted wedgie.
You see, this isn't the LPGA's xenophobia at work here, despite the obvious link. This is about jollying up the sponsors, and the ams in all those lucrative pro-ams, and we know this because the players interviewed in Beth Ann Baldry's story in Golfweek said so. Apparently the high volume of Koreans is causing the golf economy to implode, so the LPGA turned suggestion into mandate. Indeed, the organization's Five Points Of Celebrity are listed in order as "appearance, relevance, approachability, joy/passion and performance."
|Just watch (and we know you will): LPGA players will make like Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh. (Getty Images)|
Well, now it's fully out. Look hot, be hot is the LPGA's official mantra now, which leads us, shamefully, to where all this image remaking must go.
Reflect, if you don't believe us, on the recent Olympics. What were the two biggest women's stories as presented by the networks and news outlets? Gymnastics and beach volleyball. Outfits? Tight and skimpy. Men, apparently, don't need to be as aerodynamic in these very same pursuits, for reasons no coach, expert, pundit or kinesiologist has ever been able to adequately explain without coming off as some kind of white-coated pervert.
Then consider the plethora of Internet photos from the Olympics. Predictably, they were very often of women's behinds. Hey, gotta give the kids what they want, right?
And then, think of what prominent women's sport didn't get much run time, either on NBC or in the hearts and minds of the viewing public? Basketball, in which the American women did not wear form-fitting duds and still crushed the opposition. So apparently it isn't just about winning after all.
So why, if you can't force players who didn't have the good sense to be born to English-speaking parents to learn the language, can't you force them to find the same way to wealth and fame that Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh found? I mean, if sponsors want English, they probably want skin, too, if we know what makes most male sponsors tick, and we think we do.
See, somewhere along the line, and we're not quite sure when, it became acceptable again to ask women athletes to tart themselves up for the quick dollar. Many are fine with that, which tells us mostly that pride goeth before a check.
And the LPGA, which apparently is having trouble finding sponsors to keep the goose sufficiently gold, has particularly few qualms along these lines. Natalie Gulbis, Anna Rawson and Sophie Sandolo have already gone the clothing-damned-near-optional route without a word of caution from the mothership.
Thus, it is hard to imagine that someone in the home office hasn't already had the idea, and is just waiting for the right staff meeting in which to spring it.
Our guess? If the sponsors aren't sufficiently mollified by the new English-first Tour, that's when the topic will be broached. And depending upon the organization's level of economic desperation, it may well be ratified, that spinning sound from Babe Didrikson Zaharias' grave site notwithstanding.
It does no good to complain about it, or invoke those women who made the LPGA Tour a lucrative bit of fun without going starkers. Our national sense of propriety was sold for scrap long ago.
Thus, it will only take a couple of high-rollers at a pro-am to lean into their professional playing partner and say, "You know what would make your sport more visible? More visibility. I know I'd kick in more money."
And once he drops the M-bomb, the players' eyes get big, and then you know how the rest of the dominoes fall, starting with this one:
"Hey, whatever happened to the English thing we were pushing a couple of years ago?"
"Shut up, Churchill. I can't see, hear or fantasize about the players as they walk down the fairway."
Ray Ratto is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.