LPGA golfers say English is a big struggleKim Joo-mi captured her first career LPGA win in February at the season opening SBS Open in Hawaii, knocking off her compatriot, Moon Soo-young, in a playoff.
There was only one problem.
On the 18th green, an English-speaking reporter from The Golf Channel walked toward Kim with a microphone to gather thoughts from the winner, live on television.
The winning smile on Kim’s face turned into an awkward chuckle.
Kim, like many of her fellow Korean LPGA golfers, didn’t speak enough English to conduct the interview.
She immediately sought help from her caddy, Jang Jae-sik, who interpreted for her. She concluded the interview by saying, “Next time I win, I will do the interview in English.”
She has said that the language barrier, not golf, is the most difficult challenge that she faces.
Given the way she has played so far, with two top-10s and ranking 18th on the money list, one would have hard time disagreeing with her.
Over the weekend, Jang Jeong became the eighth Korean to win on the Ladies Professional Golf Tour in 15 tournaments, and fourth consecutive to do so, by winning the Wegmans LPGA in New York.
Those eight wins have been accomplished by eight golfers.
The women are turning the LPGA Tour into the secondary Korean tour. There are five Koreans in the top 10 on the tour’s money list.
Overall, 32 Korean ladies have full-time playing privileges on the tour. They have combined for 45 top-10 finishes and nine runner-ups.
Ten of those players speak “functional” English, said Shim Kyu-min, the sole Korean working in the LPGA, in an interview with ESPN the Magazine.
Shim is often asked to translate, even though his job is to be a liaison between Korean sponsors and the LPGA.
Some fans believe the Koreans seem aloof, because they don’t speak English and don’t always interact.
In a press conference after her win last weekend, a reporter asked Jang about her efforts to reach out to the fans, who gave her a cool reception. “Do you feel the fans are accepting you enough and that this goes both ways?”
She responded, “They did really good. They give me pretty big clap. I never think about it that way. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.”
by Yoo Jee-ho