- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 26, 2013

NAPLES, FLA. (AP) - This kind of conversation was rare five years ago on the LPGA Tour. For starters, it involved Vin Scully.

So Yeon Ryu was chatting on the putting green when the topic of her name came up. The LPGA makes sure everyone pronounces it correctly as “Yoo.” So why is it that Scully referred to rookie left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu as “REE-yoo?”

“Oh, the Dodgers’ pitcher? He’s a really good guy,” she said. “Maybe that can be a nickname for him.”

Any relation?


“No,” she replied with a laugh. “Ryu is a pretty common name in Korea. But we’re good friends.”

So you’re a baseball fan?

“Oh, yeah. I love the Dodgers,” she said.

Na Yeon Choi, a U.S. Women's Open champion who describes herself as shy, can’t stop talking _ in English, of course _ about how far she has come in six years on the LPGA. She recalls her rookie season when she could speak only enough English “to order McDonald’s.”

“When I traveled with my parents, we couldn’t go to any restaurants by ourselves. We had to go with somebody,” she said. “There are so many questions. One day we went to American restaurant and just pointed at the food. Even then they were like, `You want appetizer first, or soup?’ It was a very hard time.”

Choi spent a year traveling with Greg Morrison, a Canadian tutor living in Seoul, practicing English an hour a day without fail. She is comfortable enough now that she made a studio appearance last year on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive.” And when her parents are in town?

“I can go wherever I want,” she said with a smile.

Any more, it’s hard to find a South Korean who doesn’t speak English with great proficiency _ in pro-ams, in interviews, speeches, even with other players. That so-called problem of the LPGA Tour being taken over by South Koreans sure doesn’t seem like one anymore.

“In sports, your reputation today is a three- to five-year lag of what was reality back then,” Commissioner Mike Whan said. “I think that’s our case. I hear it all the time. `Nobody speaks the language. They don’t talk to anybody. They keep their head down.’ That’s 100 percent not true. I hope our reputation in three years is our reputation from today. Because our reputation today is pretty damn good.”

Whan said he couldn’t walk onto the practice range without seeing half-dozen translators when he started in 2010. Now that’s rare.

Se Ri Pak, the pioneer of women’s golf in South Korea, tried to speak English from her rookie season (“crowd make big loud”) and eventually was good enough. As more South Koreans began to arrive on tour, Pak urged them to learn English for their own sake. The more comfortable they were in a new culture, the better they would perform. For years, though, translators became a crutch.

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