[NOTEBOOK]Golf dads have no place at LPGAJim Pierce, the father of the French tennis player Mary Pierce, is the archetype of a pushy, domineering parent. When Ms. Pierce was a teenager in the early 1990s, Mr. Pierce would follow his daughter to every match to coach her, boo her opponents, and even physically beat her in public for making mistakes. After Mr. Pierce shouted, “Mary, kill the bitch!” at one match in 1993, the Women’s Tennis Association banned him from the grandstands and instituted a regulation, commonly known as the “Jim Pierce Rule,” to prohibit abusive language and conduct by players, coaches and relatives.
Mr. Pierce is not the only overenthusiastic father in women’s tennis. The fathers of Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, Jennifer Capriati of the United States, Steffi Graf of Germany and the Williams sisters of the United States are especially notorious. The fathers love their talented daughters so much that they want to travel with them on their global peregrinations. The fatherly love often becomes distorted, and the international media call them “tennis dads.”
Golf World, a U.S. magazine specializing in golf, recently ran a shocking story about the fathers of Korean players in the Ladies Professional Golf Association tournaments. Some fathers are suspected to have given advice in Korean, have stood in front of greens to mark their daughter’s putting line, used hand signals to help with club selection; one is even said to have nudged his daughter’s ball in the rough to improve the lie.
This would be appalling and unimaginable behavior. Golf World cautioned that the claims, mostly raised by American players, could have been based on professional envy and cultural differences. The Ladies Professional Golf Association said officially that it had investigated the claims but did not find any evidence to prove that Korean players’ fathers had violated the rules.
Before we lash out against the false accusations, we need to consider why Korean woman professionals and their fathers had become a subject of a disgraceful debate. In fact, some fathers rebuked their daughters in public after a bad day and even intimidated their caddies by giving lectures. When two Korean golfers played in the same group in last month’s U.S. Open, the parents of one player claimed that the other player’s father moved his daughter’s ball in the woods. The father of the teen prodigy, Michelle Wie, quarreled with Danielle Amma-ccapane, a veteran American pro golfer, when she berated his daughter for a breach of etiquette. Many players and spectaters witnessed the less-than-pretty incident.
Many Korean players avoid having conversations with fellow non-Korean pros because of their poor English. When the pro golfers were paired with amateurs in a pro-am, they kept their silence, which could have been interpreted as being angry. Many Korean players have won huge purses, but we cannot remember anyone having made a generous donation to charity. LPGA tournaments are not international matches with a country’s honor at stake, but Korean-Americans often follow the Korean players with banners in Korean encouraging them, which can annoy other spectators in the gallery. These little complaints and discontents could have added up into a converging attack on Korean golf dads.
Korean golfers are in the LPGA tour for the long run. America is a land of opportunity, but after all, it is a land of Americans. In order to establish themselves on the American stage, Korean golfers will need more than excellence in the field. They should not call down the fury of American pros and fans. Moreover, the golfers need to become accustomed to American culture. The first step would be a break with their overenthusiastic fathers. If they are reluctant to give up that undesirable influence, the American media will someday come up with the dishonorable title of “golf dads.”
* The writer is sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Dong-kyun