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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

August 17, 2009

Written by C.N.

Globalization and Golf: Y.E. Yang, Newest Major Champion

If you haven’t heard already, this past Sunday, South Korean Y.E. Yang won the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Championship by stunning heavy favorite Tiger Woods. This was Yang’s first ‘major’ PGA win (there are four tournaments each year that are considered “majors” — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship) and only his second overall PGA victory, while Tiger had been undefeated when leading a major PGA tournament going into the final round. As Sports Illustrated points out, this was also the first major PGA victory by an Asian-born player:

Y.E. Yang celebrates at the PGA Championship © John Biever/Sports Illustrated

[Yang’s victory was] memorable as much for his clutch shots as the player he beat. Woods was 14-0 when he went into the final round of a major atop the leaderboard. He had not lost any tournament around the world in nine years when leading by two shots.

None of that mattered to Yang, a 37-year-old South Korean who hit the shots everyone expected from Woods. Leading by one on the final hole, Yang slayed golf’s giant with a hybrid 3-iron that cleared the bunker and settled 12 feet from the cup. Yang made the birdie putt and shouted with joy as he pumped his fist. That gave him a 2-under 70, and a three-shot victory. . . .

His victory is massive for Asia, the fastest-growing market in golf. Perhaps even more significant is that the way he stood up to Woods, the world’s No. 1 player whose heritage is half-Asian through his Thai-born mother. Yang and K.J. Choi are the only PGA Tour players who learned golf in South Korea before coming to America. South Koreans have had far more success on the LPGA Tour, with seven players combining to win 11 majors. . . .

Asian-born players had come close in the majors – Liang-Huan Lu of Taiwan finishing one shot behind Lee Trevino at the 1971 British Open, and T.C. Chen’s famous two-chip gaffe that cost him a chance at the 1985 U.S. Open, where he was runner-up to Andy North. This could be a big breakthrough for Asian players, especially with a World Golf Championship starting this year in China.

First, Yang’s victory is a significant individual achievement for him as a professional golfer. Not only is this victory his first major win, but it was just his second overall PGA win. Very few golfers are able to win a major with such a relatively short victory list. He was ranked just 110th in the world (with Tiger ranked at #1) and actually had to do well in supplemental tournaments in order to qualify to play in a major such as this PGA Championship. So a win like this is certainly significant for him personally.

Secondly, Yang’s victory is also representative of a larger emerging trend — how golf is increasingly become more Asian and Asian American. It was Tiger Woods (who is half Asian and half Black) who first started this trend when he burst on the scene 13 years ago. Then women’s professional golf (the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association, LPGA) saw an influx and emergence of several successful Asian and Asian American golfers (many from South Korea), with Se Ri Pak being the first. Then last year, Asian American Anthony Kim had his coming out party, helping the U.S. team beat the Europeans in dramatic fashion at the prestigious Ryder Cup.

The video clip from CNN discusses the recent emergence of golf in Asia:

I would not be surprised to see more Asian and Asian American golfers emerge and achieve consistent success in the next few years. In fact, in addition to Anthony Kim, another South Korean, K.C. Choi, has been making a name for himself recently as well. It remains to be seen whether such Asian and Asian American golfers can achieve the same level of success as their female counterparts in the LPGA and whether any of them can dethrone Tiger Woods as the number one golfer on the planet (no player has for any extended amount of time in the past 13 years).

Nonetheless, I’m confident we’ll be hearing names like Yang, Choi, Kim, and other Asian surnames more often in the years to come.


August 14, 2009

Written by C.N.

Posts from Years Past: August

You might be interested to read the following posts from August of years past:

  • 2008: Professional Women’s Golf: English Only
    Critique of the LPGA’s policy requiring its players to be fluent in English and the penalties against them if they are not.
  • 2007: The Downside of Diversity
    A new study questions whether racial/ethnic and cultural diversity actually produces a net benefit for American society.
  • 2006: Latest ACT Scores by Racial Group
    The latest statistical breakdown of ACT scores across different racial/ethnic groups sheds some light on one aspect of the model minority image for Asian Americans.
  • 2005: Asian Names: Americanize or Not?
    Examining a common dilemma among Asian Americans: whether to keep using their given Asian name, or switch to an “easier-to-pronounce” Americanized name.

August 26, 2008

Written by C.N.

Professional Women’s Golf: English Only

I presume that most of you have heard about various campaigns aimed at making English the official language of the U.S., or a particular state, or some other entity or institution. In recent decades, such campaigns have had some successes. But as ESPN reports, the latest high-profile attempt at instituting English as the official language comes from the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA):

Players were told by LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that by the end of 2009, all players who have been on the tour for two years must pass an oral evaluation of their English skills or face a membership suspension. A written explanation of the policy was not given to players, according to the report. . . .

Every Korean player who spoke with Golfweek about the meeting came away with the understanding she would lose her tour card if she failed the test rather than face suspension, according to the report. But Korean players who spoke about the policy supported the tour’s position, though some, including Se Ri Pak, felt fines would be better than suspensions. . . .

Players must be able to conduct interviews and give acceptance speeches without the help of a translator, [an LPGA official] said, according to the report. Galloway said the policy takes effect immediately, but that players’ English proficiency would not be measured until the end of 2009, according to the report. The LPGA’s membership includes 121 international players from 26 countries; 45 are South Koreans.

Those who follow professional women’s golf should know that in recent years, a large number of South Korean and Korean American players have become quite prominent and successful. For example, 14 of the top 24 LPGA money earners so far in the 2008 season are Asian or Asian American.

Based on the disproportionate presence and success of these Asian players, the question becomes, is the LPGA singling them out with this new “English only” rule? Is this the 21st century version of the Foreign Miner’s Tax that was levied only at Chinese immigrants back in the 1800s once they became “too successful?”

The ESPN article seems to suggest that many, perhaps even most, of these Asian and Asian American LPGA players do not object to the rule, presumably because they agree with the LPGA’s stated rationale that it is to attract more corporate sponsors who would be more apt to support the sport if its best players are able to converse in English on television.

I can’t speak for how these Asian and Asian American women golfers honestly feel about this new rule, but I can speak for myself in saying that it sounds discriminatory to me. Before I talk specifically about how this applies to the LPGA, I want to first relate it to the larger “Official English” efforts throughout American society.

I want to make it clear that I support LPGA players and all immigrants to the U.S. in general learning English and trying to integrate into the “mainstream.” I do not support immigrants — Asian or otherwise — isolating themselves into their own ethnic enclaves and not making any effort to assimilate to some degree into American society.

At the same time, we need to remember that the overwhelming majority of immigrants already know that for them to achieve meaningful mobility in American society, they need to learn English. With that in mind, English is already the de facto official language of the U.S.

Campaigns to mandate English as the official language only serve to cause more divisions, resentment on both sides, and will actually hurt immigrants’ attempts to learn English because they eliminate much-needed bilingual programs and resources, leading immigrants to give up on their efforts to learn English.

As applied to the LPGA, the fact that so many players from Asia are participating and doing well in their sport suggests to me that golf’s popularity is spreading all around the world and is becoming less U.S.-centric. This actually corresponds to the larger trends of globalization, as the world becomes more interconnected and American society becomes more culturally diverse.

With that in mind, I see the LPGA’s “English Only” mandate as a reactionary effort to keep the sport as “American” (i.e. White) as possible. Instead of embracing golf’s growing global appeal and perhaps attract more international sponsors, the LPGA apparently wants to stick its head in the sand and pretend that it’s 1958, rather than 2008.

My guess is that most if not all Asian LPGA players are trying to learn as much English as possible, just like the overwhelming majority of immigrants to the U.S. in general. But mandating that they do so is basically an ethnocentric slap in their face.

It also stands in opposition to what’s going on in the rest of the world and American society, as many Americans rush to learn languages such as Chinese. To me, it’s an example of a White-dominated institution desperately clinging to their old identity in the face of change all around them.

—————————————

Update: On September 5, 2008, in the face of widespread criticism, the LPGA announced that it would not suspend players who were not sufficiently fluent in English, although they still reserve the right to fine such players if their English does not improve.

It’s a step in the right direction but sorry LPGA, in my book, this does not go far enough. The LPGA’s plan to require English is still a bad policy and even though they now say they won’t suspend players who aren’t fluent enough, they would still fine them. To me, that is still discriminatory and unjust.

LPGA, you just need to wake up and smell what you’re shoveling — this is the 21st century, globalized and transnational, whether you like it not. Instead of trying to turn back the calendar to the 1950s, try to get with the times and realize that the sport is now a global, not exclusively American, game.