Why did we only go back as far as 1980?
Golf used to have three lists: money, wins and majors. Period. In 1980 the tour created a staff to track basic stats like driving distance, greens in regulation and putting that they hand-wrote onto a form. Now we have ShotLink data, where every shot is laser-measured to the inch, and all kinds of intricate stats. But at the center of the tour database is a record of every round from 1980 onward, which seemed like a good place to start this modern era.
Are there any surprises, in your mind, about how the list finished?
I really didn't concern myself with value judgments on any particular player while crunching the numbers. The blessing was that the No. 1 player was clearly identified, because it meant that there wouldn't be a situation where one weighting of the metrics would mean Player A was the best, and another weighting meant Player B, and perhaps a third weighting formula would mean Player C. This way I could concentrate on the numbers, especially in the middle of the pool of candidates and those guys who didn't make it.
Now, there are guys who I was curious about where they would finish. Payne Stewart, fabulous 1999, wins the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and then dies in a plane crash. Seve Ballesteros, such a heavy concentration of majors in so few tournaments on tour. Wayne Levi, a journeyman pro who kept a low profile yet won 12 times. Nicklaus, for obvious reasons, and then the young guys: Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
My curiosity now is how others will see the list. And I'm especially curious about whether any players will get in touch, either the ones in the Modern 100 or the ones who didn't make it.
With Greg Norman finishing at No. 2, despite ending his career with less majors than some of the guys further down, is it fair to say the list weighs heavily other factors aside from major wins?
Yes. Wins are like toggle switches, one guy a week gets an "on" and 143 guys get an "off." It's varying degrees of losing. But Norman was in contention so many times, we forget that because we've seen those clips of him in '96 getting that hug from Nick Faldo at the Masters or Bob Tway holing out the bunker shot at the '86 PGA or Larry Mize in the '87 Masters. Melodramatic footage is eyeball candy, but the fact is he was in the picture. Again and again and again. And remember, most of this happened in majors, which carry a 50-percent bonus. He had the highest point total in our formula six times from '86 to '95, with only two majors.
A lot of players who won before 1980 seem lower on the list than I expected. Is that unfair?
Depends on how you define unfair. Nothing before 1980 counted, which explains why a player of Johnny Miller's caliber is 63rd, or Hale Irwin is 35th, or Hubert Green didn't even qualify. The Modern 100 still reflects enough of their play that Irwin and Miller, and Nicklaus and Watson, and a bunch of other players, make it. But if you think about it, there's an unfairness, if you will, at the other end of the ranking because the players eligible today haven't finished their careers. You could also say they're at a disadvantage of sorts to the players who have their entire careers in consideration, like Norman or Singh or Els. We have no idea where the still-active players will end up once they stop winning. Someone in the second 50 could wind up in the top 10. And someone in the first 50 could slide out of the 100. That's what will make this interesting to watch.
Did you go back and figure out how the Modern 100 would have looked in earlier years?
It will be exciting to see how the Modern 100 develops from here. This moment is a lot like the late 1980s, which had a lot of volatility. Nicklaus and Watson had stopped winning, Norman was emerging but he wasn't winning in bunches. The two big questions were who would become the next Nicklaus and who was the best player without a major. A lot of guys had big single years, such as Bob Tway's four wins in '86, but the game went about a decade with a lot of players earning a lot of wins. And then there was Woods, and he sucked up a lot of oxygen.
Same scenario today as in the '80s: Els, Singh, Mickelson, Woods, all coming to the end of their victories. Who wins from here? If you enjoy watching the game this next stretch could be highly entertaining. If this is indeed a repeat of the late '80s and early '90s it could get wild, and this will have been a prescient moment to establish a Modern 100.