This past Wednesday, on the eve of the 74th US Women's Open, legendary swing instructor Hank Haney opened his radio show by making some rather controversial remarks about the state of the women's game. Among them, Haney said "He couldn't name 6 players...Wait, yes I could, I'll just go with Lee". The comments sparked outrage among the LPGA family. None more than veteran LPGA on-course reporter Jerry Foltz. Foltz was the first to take to social media to condemn Haney's remarks with others quickly following his lead. When Michelle Wie weighed in, Haney's future in radio was iffy to say the least, then Tiger removed all doubt when he condemned his former coach after his round on Friday.
In full disclosure, not many people on social media have been tougher on the LPGA than I have. Despite that, Jerry Foltz agreed to discuss Haney's comments with me in this Q&A. Not only is Jerry Foltz the LPGA's biggest ambassador, he's also one of the nicest and thoughtful people you will ever meet. And as you will see, he is passionate about the tour he covers and the players who play on it.....no matter the flag by their name.
CPG: You were listening to Hank Haney’s radio show live when you heard his controversial comments, what was your initial reaction?
Jerry Foltz: My initial reaction was shock. I literally couldn't believe that he said what he said. Don't get me wrong; I've heard similar sentiments many times, but I've never heard it from someone who has a platform and a microphone, and the inherent responsibility that goes along with it. Each time I have the same reaction. Disappointment sums it up best. Disappointed that women could be so generically dismissed, and that women's golf doesn't have enough Americans to hold a golf audience's attention. Fortunately, Hank spoke for the minority, but anyone who shares his view is depriving themselves of some of the greatest golf they'll ever see by some of the most tremendous role models in professional sports.
Although Hank’s comments were lazy, like it or not, many stereotypes have a grain of truth to them. Due to the dominance of Asian players on the LPGA Tour, would you be willing to concede that the tour has a player name recognition problem that makes it difficult for casual American fans to connect? If so, is there anything that can be done about it?
No, stereotypes don't have the slightest grain of truth to them. If they did, they wouldn't be stereotypes--they'd be factually based characterizations. And yes, there is a name recognition problem. Many of the LPGA stars struggle with how to properly pronounce my name. Sei Young Kim calls me "Scary" because when she first burst onto the scene, her English was limited. Also, she never refused to do an interview despite her limited 2nd language skills and she thought I asked tough questions. So "Scary" was easier for her to pronounce and made for a good nickname.
Ariya and Moriya struggle with my last name, but it always brings a smile to my face when they try. Sung Hyun Park, who, like many players, is very shy and self conscious about not being perfectly fluent in English, but she tries. And every time she says my name, it's probably way better than how I sound to her when I say her name. Michelle Wie's parents (who obviously speak perfect English, albeit with a slight accent) have given me a nickname that pronounces the R's and L's the way they are pronounced in many Asian cultures. Jelly Fartz isn't exactly flattering, but it's hilarious to me.
We all have fun with the language barriers, but the fact is that there's not a single foreign player who gets offended if we mispronounce their names. Pronunciation, and the flag next to their name is insignificant when you witness them dissect a golf course with the precision of a surgeon; when you see them hit longer drives than most of us can comprehend; when you see them hole putts like we all dream about. And when you see how they interact with the fans, especially the young ones, it reaffirms ones belief in humanity.
So yes, I wish I had a name that was easier for many of the LPGA players to pronounce.
After his comments, Haney was immediately labeled a racist AND a sexist, but I’m not completely sure. I feel like Haney’s comments were much more culturally biased than they were gender biased. In other words, I don’t think Haney has an issue with women golfers, I think he has an issue with women golfers from Asia who fans of American golf can’t connect to. Would you agree?
No. NO NO, NO. I don't agree. My original tweet labeled his comments racist and sexist because in my opinion, they qualified as both by almost any definition of the words. Do I think he is both? No. But all too often a person's bias' are unknown to even them. I was way more offended by his dismissal of women's golf. That was a very sexist comment. Many people have read more into it than ever crossed my mind at the time, but it was condescending at best. The racially insensitive punch-line to a bad attempt at humor is what's being labeled as racist.
Although we've come a long way as a society since the time I grew up, racial bias is still very prevalent.
I grew up with a father who was quite racist, as did most of my childhood friends. Racial jokes were prevalent everywhere. But thankfully, times change. And one of my principal goals from the day my only child was born (son, 22 yrs old now) was that he would be raised completely colorblind. And to this day, when I'm around him and his friends, I'm amazed at how far we've come as a society even when surrounded by many who still hold those archaic stereotypes.
When you refer to Asian players whom the American audience can't connect to, I'll just remind you that the biggest needle-mover in all of women's golf for a great many years, is an Asian American.
The LPGA Commissioner has a tough balancing act here. When Mike Whan looks at a Sunday LPGA leaderboard, is he deep down rooting for the presence of American flags or is he perfectly content that this is a truly global tour?
I can't speak for the Commissioner, but I will say that my head isn't stuck in the sand. If Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, and Brooke Henderson were at the top of the leaderboard of every North American event, then yes, we would likely garner a bigger TV audience. But one could use a similar analogy for any sport. We can't control that, but what we can do is cherish the way each of the players goes about their craft. We get to tell the compelling stories of their lives and everything they've overcome to get to the point where they're on international television competing at the highest level. We get to relate to the golf audience just how much they can learn from watching the women play, and often times for the recreational golfer, that's more the case than when watching the PGA Tour stars and all their incredible strength.
I think Commissioner Whan is very content with the current LPGA player roster, but I do know that he won't rest until he has the chance to open the eyes of the cynics to what they're missing if they're reluctant to watch or attend because they can't pronounce a few names.
For the casual golf fan in his recliner right now watching the Memorial, why should he flip it over to the U.S. Women’s Open? What do you know about the LPGA Tour that you wished all American golf fans knew?
Here's what I know about the LPGA Tour and its players that is the most important message to me. I'm not sure it resonates with the passive golf audience, but the avid LPGA viewer gets to witness it on a daily basis.
Every player on the LPGA Tour is driven far more than I'll ever comprehend. Every single one of them is an overachiever in my mind. They all have their own goals to try and achieve success. They are competitive in nature beyond belief. Some display their emotions and show a lot of grit outwardly. Others, because of the culture in which they were raised, have every bit of the same killer instinct on the course but you'd never know it based on their outward gestures.
Every player to a person shares common goals of benevolence. The examples are far too vast to list, but many of them not only give of their time, but also of their own finances to help others who are less fortunate and don't have the resources to live their own dreams.
But they all have one very strong collective goal, and this is the one thing that has made me such a believer in the LPGA and its mission. That goal is to inspire the next generation to inspire the following generation and so on so that the road a young child has to travel from dreaming to achieving isn't as steeply uphill as it was for them because of the simple fact that they were born a female. It's a road that's far less uphill now than it was 69 years ago when 13 ladies set out on this journey, but it's still a much steeper incline than it needs to be.
It looks as though Haney is going to lose his radio show over his remarks. If so, in your view does the punishment fit the crime?
Absolutely not. I think Hank learned a very difficult lesson. I'd be surprised if his last few days weren't full of introspection. I've known him for 34 years by my count and in the 40 or so times I've been around him, I've never heard him utter a hurtful word about anyone. He's a few, but not many years older than I, and I can say that for me, with age sometimes comes cynicism. But it only takes one seminal moment to enlighten us, and I think this was his.