Why a ‘flawed’ golf world ranking is actually good for fans
There seem to be three groups of people in this world of golf. Those who understand OWGR, those who don’t, and finally those who don’t care.
The first group gets high marks for their ability to conceive of field strength as analysts understand it (read: it’s harder to beat a lot of really good players than it is to beat a couple of dozen elite pros). The third group is free to go wherever they want. It’s the middle group, those who don’t quite understand why the OWGR was changed, that is problematic. Among its components: Jon Rahm, Padraig Harrington, Peter Kostis And others.
This group of critics is too focused on the temporal. The Right Now They obsess over this week’s points compared to the same week a year ago and refuse to acknowledge that a career like Rahm’s so early in the new mold would always make the system look weak. They apparently don’t know that exercising patience can make them look smarter and less tired. Rahm will be No. 1 in the world when March rolls around, assuming he doesn’t fall off a cliff in Torrey Pines.
The OWGR was updated not to reinforce the PGA Tour’s control over the world’s best players, but to recognize it. Tens of thousands of intersections of the top players playing around the world showed that the average PGA Tour player was, on average, posting better performances than average players anywhere else. It was not a common player to do this on the PGA Tour. There were a lot of them, the FedEx Cup nos. 70-100, which were shown year after year in a better way than their equivalents elsewhere. And so the OWGR had to tighten its strings to properly reward these performances (in part because no rewarding similar performances on other tours.) If the OWGR caretakers could do anything differently, they probably would have rolled out the new system in March, when there aren’t as many limited-field events.
But since the golf-speaking population is predisposed to worry about rankings (and listen when a player like Rahm talks to them), there is an unwanted construction that fans should embrace: the Yes, but. We see it in all sports. Yes, but Aaron Rodgers makes throws that no one else can make. Yes, but Mike Trout doesn’t have a World Series ring. Yes, but some hooper is even compared to Dame Lillard right now? No, absolutely not says Mr. Dame. Rahm feels the same way about his golf game. Yes, but Rory is ahead!
That’s all right. Golf fans should embrace yes, though. Professional golfers too. Rahm is ranked third right now. Yes, but he has won four times in his last eight starts! Yes, but he won limited fields in two of those wins! Yes, but his close shot rating is almost as high as Rory’s! Yes, but… maybe #1 should never be a weekly talking point.
Since its inception, the ranking has always been based on several years of tournaments. No. 1 has always been a two- or three-year achievement, earned in more than 100 weeks of golf. It’s more like a special tassel at graduation for the honoree than who managed the best GPA that semester.
As fans, and as humans, we love that top number. But just listen to the players who have locked in to make it happen. Many who get it are excited, but often say it doesn’t change anything (Scottie Scheffler said this last April). They admit it’s a sign of the work they’ve done, but it doesn’t mean anything in terms of what’s coming next. Adam Scott he said after reaching #1 he unconsciously took his foot off the gas. Phil Mickelson, who never reached the top spot, believed that performances in the four (very different) major championships were a better indicator of your ultimate ability.
In 2017, as he attempted to ascend to No. 1 for an eighth time, McIlroy admitted that obsessing over it isn’t necessarily productive. “For a lot of guys, it’s an ego thing,” he said. “It’s nice to be in this position. It’s not like I’m making more money because I’m No. 1. It’s nice to be able to say you’re the best in the world at what you do. The world ranking is a byproduct of how you play week in and week out.” .
It has taken fans a few months of less than stellar OWGR headliners to realize that ranking matters MORE to players ranked around 50th, 60th, or 200th. And that is exactly what the OWGR set out to improve. It had to be fairer to the players whose annual schedule really depends on their ranks: “bubble” players who can get into the World Golf Championships and the majors and begin a Scheffler-style climb.
With a little patience, golf fans will have to really appreciate the world rankings by the end of 2023. We will have progressed through 20 designated events, where the world’s best players decide who is No. 1 by strokes alone. . Get a win or two and you won’t have to worry about ranking points. But finish in the top 5 in five of them and the money list will speak for itself too.
If anything, these ranking fights will make golf even more like other sports, where we rely on a lot of input to understand a player’s value to a franchise or their skills compared to each other. The debate should send golf fans to resources like DataGolf, whose ranking includes LIV Golfers, our seemingly forgotten men. The Yes, Boots for LIV golf fans run to social media, but get sidetracked when DataGolf reminds them that poor Cam Smith actually hasn’t been that great since he left the PGA Tour. (He ranks 4th in the OWGR and 17th in the DataGolf rankings.) Or that Dustin Johnson, while still great, isn’t Rahm Great right now. DJ should stop playing softball and go win the Saudi International next week just to join the conversation.
Remember October 2019, when Brooks Koepka was asked about their budding rivalry with McIlroy? Koepka had won his fourth career earlier this year, tying McIlroy’s total. Rory had won the Players Championship and two other titles. Koepka had finished in the top four at every major. McIlroy’s peers voted him Player of the Year.
Brooks responded with a definitive Yes, butciting the zero majors McIlroy had won since Koepka had joined the Tour.
“I’m not looking at anybody behind me,” he said. “I’m No. 1 in the world, I’ve got a clear path ahead of me and I’m not looking in the rear-view mirror, so I don’t see it as a rivalry.”
DataGolf ranked Koepka 9th at the time. McIlroy was the top seed. Yes, but you know what? Rory has yet to win a major since then.
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