The Official World Golf Ranking is as complicated as it is overlooked.
Other than the occasional conversation about who is or is not the world’s top-ranked player and the random indignation when a player moves up on the list without even playing, talk of minimum divisors and average ranking points are largely the realm of the few zealots who are mathematically savvy enough to understand how it works.
Within PGA Tour circles, however, the ranking has become a frequent talking point. At a player-only meeting in February, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan addressed, what’s best described as, growing discontent for the ranking.
“We went to [the world ranking governing board] at The Open Championship last year and very directly told them our concerns and asked them for a review of the world ranking system. That process is underway,” Monahan said.
That review is an independent analysis of the ranking by Deloitte that’s scheduled to be completed later this year. Monahan went on to explain that it’s his goal to create an “unbiased system” and that “change should be in the offering.”
Essentially this is a perception problem for Tour types. Consider that Brendan Jones received more world ranking points (16) for his victory at the Token Homemate Cup on the Japan Golf Tour than J.T. Poston did for finishing tied for sixth at the RBC Heritage on Sunday (10.44).
Those who question that scale are supported by simple math. The strength of field based on the world ranking for the Heritage was 460, compared with a strength of field for the Token Homemate Cup of 35. Statistically that would make the Tour stop 13 times deeper than the event in Japan, yet the winner at Harbour Town received about four times the points (58) as Jones.
Those who crunch the world ranking numbers will explain the current system is equitable based on a complicated formula, but it’s clear the Tour disagrees. It’s also clear that most fans don’t care.
We can all agree that any world ranking conversation is as captivating as watching Bryson DeChambeau calculate the air density and rotation of the earth over a 6-footer for par. But for those whose livelihoods depend on the convoluted system, it holds great importance.
Countless players will spend the next few weeks vying to move up in the world ranking beginning with the June 10 deadline for the top 60 players to qualify for the U.S. Open, followed by a similar cut off for the top 50 to earn a spot into The Open.
Perhaps the Deloitte analysis will find some acceptable middle ground, but it’s more likely that anything that skews too far toward the PGA Tour will be considered an overreaction while a solution that leans closer to the status quo will be seen by the Tour as capitulation (see previous comments from Monahan, Jay).
What’s truly curious in all of this world ranking handwringing is the most obvious solution – extinction.
The ranking began in 1986 when the world was a much larger and disconnected place and there was a need to tie together a fragmented professional golf universe. There needed to be some sort of benchmark, a measure that would give the powers that be a clear snapshot of the competitive landscape.
There needed to be a list. But today professional golf is overrun with lists. From the FedExCup to the Race to Dubai every major circuit has performance-based rankings, and one can argue that each list is a much better guide to current competitive relevance. Each list is also immune to the ranking bias, be it real or perceived, that currently dogs the world ranking.
The PGA Championship uses its own points list, a one-year ranking based on official earnings, along with a variety of other criteria. Not included in the qualification for the year’s second major is a player’s position in the world ranking, although officials do historically dovetail special exemptions to those inside the top 100 to assure no one slips through the cracks.
The point remains valid, however. There are now endless ways to identify competitive merit without becoming mired in the world ranking weeds.
Perhaps the game’s best minds can conjure a solution to the current ranking problems, but if we’re being objective the entire analysis is starting to feel like an exercise in diminishing returns. Organizations like the PGA of America and R&A don’t need the world ranking to identify the best players any longer.
Nor do players seem to be sitting around pining to be world No. 1. Among the players who have held the top spot in recent years, they have all said ascending to No. 1 in the ranking is the result of stellar play over a prolonged period. That satisfaction doesn’t change just because we stopped doing the math and retire the ranking.
What will change is the confusion and apathy for a system that has outlived its usefulness.