Bridging the gap

In the '70s, Jan Stephenson used her body to cause a stir on the LPGA Tour, posing for what some of her colleagues considered soft porn. Those running the tour publicly slapped Stephenson's hand and privately, if figuratively, patted her on the butt.

This being the politically correct New Millennium, what Stephenson did last fall by taking on one of the LPGA's hot-button topics caused a reverse effect. LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw reprimanded Stephenson. The other players, particularly the Americans, privately applauded.

"The Asians are killing the tour ... absolutely killing it,'' Stephenson told a national golf magazine. "They're taking it over.''

Stephenson, who is Australian, went on to say, "Our tour is predominantly international and the majority of them are Asian. If I were commissioner, I would have a quota on international players and that would include a quota on Asian players. As it is, they're taking American money and American sponsors are picking up the bill.''

Of course Stephenson had no troubled cashing her checks for prize money and more significantly endorsements when she was one of the tour's top players on and off the course during her prime. Some of her peers resented Stephenson for the way she grabbed the spotlight, but they didn't complain about her taking food off their plates.

While the only attention Stephenson seems to generate these days is with her mouth, what she said many players have been thinking for awhile.

As one veteran said recently about the on-course etiquette of many Asian players, "Sometimes it's nice to say, 'good shot' and recognize the other players. We hear that they're not allowed to say that. But since they are such a big part of our tour, it's important that they learn what is needed from them, not just the golf part.''

By opening its doors and becoming what Votaw likes to call "a true international tour" Stephenson believes the tour is making itself even more a non-entity than it was before. She's probably right.

Grace Park might be as American than she is Korean, having spent half her life in the U.S., but the tour's leading money winner isn't exactly Juli Inkster or Lorie Kane (a Canadian) when it comes to personality. And Park is more interested in becoming the No. 1 player in the world than a proverbial human bridge between the two cultures.

"I don't know I am responsible for it or if I can take that responsibility,'' Park said. "But if any of them (fellow Asians) need my help, I am willing to help and offer whatever I could. But I don't think I am the one that has to bridge those two cultures.''

Something, or somebody, better figure out a way before Stephenson or somebody else opens their mouth again.

Don Markus covers golf for the Baltimore Sun