Golf Digest editors picks

How We Ranked The 100 Best Modern Players

The ranking's creator, Brett Avery, talks through how he crafted our in-depth list

Modern best 100

Nicklaus, Duval, Woods, Els, Singh, Love III, Floyd, McIlroy, Mickelson, Faldo (from left to right)

January 2014
Lets start at the obvious: why did we decide rank the 100 best modern players?

When Jaime Diaz, the magazine's editor, proposed this project in early 2013, he said he was intrigued by the fact that no one had ever tried to rank PGA Tour players of this era. Everyone concentrated on career and all-time rankings, but not the best of the moment.

Ultimately, like college basketball and football polls, a major part of it is trying to place order on an unwieldy universe. Everyone following the PGA Tour knows the season money list, the playoff points list and the Official World Golf Ranking. They tell us something, but the first two reflect partial seasons and the World Ranking goes back 104 weeks. We were looking for something between those spans.

Throughout the list you mention the formula that you employed. In layman's terms, what is this formula?

The cornerstone of the formula rests on something Jaime kept describing during that first meeting: "How good was your good?" In a way the tour's all-time victory list does that, but it's a single metric and it doesn't account for how players reached those numbers. Take two guys with 10 victories. They're equals in wins, but if one does it in 100 starts he's a star and if the other does it in 750 he's had a tidy career.

"How good was your good?" is determined by who you beat and who beat you. Because most players never played in the same tournaments, it's tough to equitably compare a guy in the 1980s to today's players. What you can do, though, is measure performance in a season and then translate those grades into a number quantifying a career. All those 47,000-plus individual tournament starts and more than 110,000 rounds were divided into 34 yearly pools and then crunched from there.

The formula itself is fairly simple. I looked at the 1,945 individual seasons two ways. The first is called "performance." It's how many times you played in a year and how you finished in those starts. The fewer starts, the more weight each carries. The more starts, the less weight. There was a sliding scale of points for everything from wins down to 25th and a small deduction for missing a cut. Everything else -- making the cut but placing outside the top 25, the background noise -- counted for zero. We gave a 50-percent bonus for the majors and 20 percent for the Players after it moved to TPC Sawgrass. That part was a matter of adding up every player's points for a season.

The second part is called "versus peers," because it's a comparison of every eligible player in a season. There's a par every day on tour, the field scoring average. We calculated a player's cumulative field average for every round and a separate calculation for final rounds, including fifth rounds in 90-hole events. Those were our proxies for strength of schedule, because tournaments with the highest scoring averages, like the majors, tend to have the strongest fields and the tournaments with low scoring averages tend to have the weakest. We then calculated how much cumulatively more or less the player's scores stood to their all-round and final-round field averages. It's like an over par-under par score, expressed to three decimals.

We then indexed those four versus peer numbers. The top guy in a category received a score of 100, the lowest guy a 0. That's about as unflinching a way to separate these guys as you can imagine. And when we combined the versus peers number with the base score from the performance finishes, we had a season score. From there we counted the number of seasons a guy was eligible, totaled up the points and divided for his average.

I tried to wind up with a nice, round number for the average season score and thought 4 would be good, because that's par on most holes. All those seasons wound up with an average of 3.942, which isn't bad. I wanted to throw as wide a net as possible, so the bar was fairly low: three official wins since 1980 or two wins if at least one was a major. That brought 178 guys, which was a large enough pool to feel we could identify 100 players with solid records.

And how did you decide who you would enter into this formula?

I wanted to throw as wide a net as possible, so the bar was fairly low: three official wins since 1980 or two wins if at least one was a major. That brought 178 guys, which was a large enough pool to feel we could identify 100 players with solid records.

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