An Outside The Box Proposal
Continued (page 2 of 3)
Even McCormack recognized the difficulty of his task early on. His tone in subsequent years reflected more tongue-in-cheek boast than a defense of anything scientific. In the 1971 edition, he called it "this book's annual conversation piece, the guaranteed, A-1, acme, spendiferous [sic], see-it-now-in-technicolor, Mark H. McCormack system for evaluating who can really play this game."
The ranking was formally accepted as the Sony Ranking in April 1986 and has been tweaked many times since. In the process it has steadily gained in credibility, the big moment coming in 1997 when the five major tours formally endorsed the OWGR at a meeting in Turnberry, Scotland.
In the current version of the ranking system, points are distributed in cascading fashion for victories and subsequent runner-up positions in different degrees for different levels of events. Those arbitrarily determined levels might award points to all of those making the cut at say, the U.S. Open, but only the top four finishers at the Indo Zambia Bank Zambia Open. Points are increased by the number and rankings-based quality of the players in the field, and certain events on certain tours are given "flagship" status to secure even more bonus points, reflecting their further importance. Points diminish in value over the course of a rotating two-year cycle.
While the OWGR value of all events today is primarily a function of the strength of the field, there are a significant number of events that receive a mandatory minimum value. Those minimum values start at the top with major winners earning 100 points and trickle down to even the Sunshine Tour Winter Series 54-hole event champions earning a minimum of four points.
The problem is those minimum point values can tip the scale. For example, the open championships of Australia, Japan and South Africa award a minimum of 32 points to the winner, regardless of the strength of field. According to the OWGR website, these "flagship events" of minor tours get special higher-minimum-point levels "to reflect their status."
There might not be a scientific justification for the current OWGR methodology, but perhaps there is some other reason besides ranking the top players in the world. Just as affirmative action policies in education and the workplace played an important role at a certain time in providing opportunities to disenfranchised minorities, so too, it could be argued, does awarding "minimum value" points to minor tours. It helps globalize the game in a more equitable manner, it creates interest in emerging golf markets both among fans and potential sponsors and it provides more possibilities for players from different tours to compete against each other. In short, the OWGR is the most effective marketing tool global golf has.
The OWGR system is routinely monitored by a technical committee and minimum point values are determined by representatives from the world's major and minor tours in consultation with OWGR coordinators Tony Greer and Ian Barker. In an email to Golf World, Greer and Barker explain those minimum values are determined by the committee: "As was the case when the ranking was first launched, a careful study was carried out to establish these parameters." Of course, "careful study" can still result in incongruities, such as these examples:
* Francesco Molinari won the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions event and earned 68 points for his victory. The tournament is an otherwise inconsequential, though high-prize-money event held well after the conclusion of the major championships at an undistinguished course in China. The problem: Molinari's point total was worth more than losing the playoff for this year's Masters.
* K.T. Kim is a rising Korean player with an admirable local record in Asian events but a pair of missed cuts and a T-59 in his last three major championships. He earned 32 points when he won the Japan Open in 2010, more than what he would have earned for finishing fourth in the PGA Championship. But he didn't finish fourth, he finished T-59.
* Hiroyuki Fujita won the recent Golf Nippon Series JT Cup, an end-of-year event for the top 25 players on the JGTO money list and tournament winners. His 18 points for that victory exceed by 18 the number of points he earned for not making the cut at the British Open, while at the same time nearly match the points won by Luke Donald or Nick Watney for finishing fourth at last year's Players Championship.
* Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaņo grabbed 46 points when he won the Barclays Singapore Open last November, a tournament that started billing itself as "Asia's Major" in 2006 after Barclays signed on as a sponsor following the tournament not being played in the previous three years. The win moved him up 70 places in the OWGR and was worth more than a third-place finish at the U.S. Open, which has been a major since the term was invented.
* The field for the 2010 Greenbrier Classic had 19 top-100 players, while the 2010 Japan Open only had seven such players. The world ranking value of the participating players was 146 for the Greenbrier but only 36 for the Japan Open. Yet, because the Japan Open is characterized as a flagship event, both tournament winners were awarded 32 ranking points, or 60 percent more points than what a field like that of the Japan Open otherwise would have earned.
* With just one player in the top 200 in the world, the 2010 Madeira Islands Open winner (because of an OWGR "tour minimum" points stipulation) earned the same amount of points as the fifth-place finisher in a major championship. Broadie assures you he did not set out to attack the Official World Golf Ranking. Like others, though, he had heard the stories of bias. So he decided to do the math. He and his co-author presented their idea in March at the World Scientific Congress of Golf Conference in Arizona, and although the actual presentation was brief, the language scored a direct hit. Broadie is not condemnatory.