Do the Official World Golf Rankings really tell who’s best?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The Rules of Golf are once again in the headlines as Russell Henley calls 8 penalty strokes on himself for violating the One Ball rule (20-3). This is a Rule that is not likely to be ever called in casual play. Despite simplifying the Rules earlier this year, they still seem to be full of picky obscure restrictions that confuse and frustrate casual golfers. Is it time we had a set of Rules for professional and elite amateur events and another for recreational play?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I suppose one set for pros and one set for ams makes sense, but the Anti-Bifurcation Police would surely have a snit fit.  Since I started playing golf, some 112 years ago, I’ve had a problem with the Rules… I think they’re arbitrary, picayune, incomprehensible, open to interpretation, and in many cases pointless.  Aside from that, 99% of amateurs knowingly or unknowingly break at least one rule every time they venture forth, so really, what’s the point of having more than, say, five basic guidelines that all can understand?  I don’t know what Russell Henley did, but it really seems silly to incur an infraction then slap yourself eight times. You can say he was defending the integrity of the Rules, but did the rule he transgressed have any integrity in the first place?

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Don’t blame the Rules on this one. This is a PGA Tour elected local rule to implement the pone ball rule, they could do away with it. It doesn’t exist at the Amateur level (rarely at any level). And perhaps the player, irresponsible to not have enough balls on hand. AND, he or the caddie could have asked someone to get them replacement balls, nothing in the rules that state that can’t happen. So, as much as you want to blame the Rules, I won’t accept that this time around, and that’s a hard no to bifurcation thank you.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: This is just another example of why most players don’t abide by the rules and in fact many who don’t play golf think the game is ‘stuffy’! This rule is crazy! Why is there a maximum limit of 4 strokes or loss of two holes for playing with too many clubs and not a limit on how many penalty strokes there are for using an illegal ball? Bifurcation already exists with the new rule that a player who hits a ball out of bounds can proceed to an approximate point where the ball crossed the OB and take a drop IF THEY ARE NOT PLAYING IN A COMPETITION. The answer is to take this rule a little further and write a set of rules for competition and a set of rules for casual play. One would look like the current Rules of Golf. The other would look a lot like the Original Rules of Golf written by the Edinburgh Golfers 300 years ago.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@Davykap): According to my understanding of what occurred, he finished his round with a completely different ball than he started with without announcing a switch so anything could have happened there. I think the penalty was fair and the codes of honour and honesty these guys hold themselves to be admirable. But I don’t understand why you can only carry one specific type of ball during a tournament. Provided you disclose which ball you are switching to, this really shouldn’t be an issue. The more I hear of these bizarre and trivial penalties that are being incurred on a weekly basis, the more I think we actually need bifurcated rules for pros and amateurs.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I believe we do anyway.  Do you think that any amateur is going to penalize him or herself for using a different type of ball during a round before posting their score?  Or better yet, how many players use a Pinnacle for tee shots in a scramble and a Pro V for approaches and around the green?  I’ve seen it many times!  If they could easily separate the rules between pros/competitive amateurs and casual players, that would be great, but that likely confuses things more in my mind.  There’s certainly no easy way to simplify the rules of golf!

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: There has always been – our favourite word – bifurcation in the grand olde game. From day one there has been the way the vast majority negotiates the challenges and the way the blazers tell them to. The grand schism between the elites playing for fortunes and/or honours and the commoners scraping it around for a pint or two doesn’t have to be formalized, it’s already well and truly there. As Callaway used to say, Rule 35 — have fun. That’s all we hackers need.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): One set of Rules is just fine, thank you very much. The reality is that most golfers play by a set of accepted norms that bear some resemblance to the Rules of Golf but may be adjusted on the fly by consensus. As long as everybody is happy, anything goes. If they’re going to break the Rules anyway, why add a second set that are just as likely to be broken.

The Official World Golf Rankings are often criticized because they give too much weight to a player’s performance a year and two years ago. If they were more heavily weighted to the past three and six months, they would be more volatile but also be more relevant to fans’ perceptions of who’s hot right now. Would that be a positive change?

Deeks: Oh gosh, you must’ve caught me in a rare bad mood, because I feel the same way about the OWGR as I do about the Rules!  I don’t follow the Men’s Rankings as closely as the Women’s, so my comment here only relates to the ladies.  But how Brooke Henderson can have the last three outstanding seasons she’s had, and sit in 7th place, is beyond belief.  Nelly Korda won a tournament a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly she comes from nowhere to 3rd place!  (Brooke, like Nelly, has won twice this year.)  Nasa Hataoka is 18th on the current money list and 17th in scoring average (Brooke is 4th and 4th, respectively), and yet Nasa is 4th in the Rankings, probably based on her 2016 season!  The whole thing’s a joke, either way.

Loughry: I like favouring the hot hand, those showing more recent good form. Someone that played well 18 months ago, can often not even be close to the same player. I would prefer more weighting going towards recent play, I do think it would be a positive change, we’re in a NOW society, so cater to it already!

Schurman: The rankings system is so complicated it’s extremely difficult to figure it out. However, everyone knows you can wake-up on any given day and you’ve got “it”. Then just when you start bragging a bit, you’ve lost “it”. First, the scoring should only include 18 months. Second, events in the most recent 6-month period receive 3 times the value, in the preceding six months they receive 2 times the value and in the last 6 months, they receive one times the value.

Kaplan: That would absolutely be a positive change. Why should what you did 18-24 months ago factor into your current world ranking!? We don’t give teams in other sports the benefit of the doubt because they won a title two years ago (The Raptors had 80/1 odds to repeat as world champions despite winning it all in June!) So why should it be any different in golf? Any results more than a year old should have no bearing on the rankings whatsoever.

Rule: No, I think you need to take a wider look at the player’s performance to judge how good they are compared to their competitors.  I don’t think that Brendan Todd is the top ranked player in the world right now.  He might be the hottest, but that doesn’t make him the best.  Being the best requires some level of consistency and endurance.  So, I think they have it right, including some results as far back as 2 years ago, but with a lesser impact than more recent results.  Again, like the rules of golf, there is no perfect solution!

Quinn: By definition, a ‘fan’ will follow the play at the highest levels and so will know who is currently playing better than anyone else. The so-called Official rankings may apply to players’ bonuses from sponsors, and entries into events. That’s it. They don’t even apply to captain’s picks for monumental events like the Prez Cup.

Mumford: As Tiger Woods says, “Winning takes care of everything.” I’d bet on the guy who won last week over a player that accumulated two years worth of ranking points. One year should be sufficient, with heavy weighting on the majors and the other points from designated events that are open to all. It’s idiotic that someone can get world ranking points from playing in limited field gigglers like the Hero World Challenge.

Recent reports have detailed the way the LPGA can grow and garner more attention from mainstream media and avid golf fans. One of the suggestions that keeps cropping up (and has been made on several occasions by our own Michael Schurman) is to have men and women play together in the same event and share the purse. These are not Silly Season Hit N Giggle tournaments but rather regular sanctioned PGA Tour and LPGA Tour events. Would you want to see it and what are the pros and cons of pursuing such an option?

Deeks: I’d like to see one real, non-hit-n-giggle men-women event, yes.  The women would play a 6,400-yard course, the men 7,300, for equilibrium.  Would this generate huge interest from viewers and spectators? Certainly, for the first year or two it might, but it would only sustain itself if the women really competed, and even won the event. Would the PGA Tour and its players be interested in sanctioning such an event?  I highly doubt it.  I can’t imagine Brooks Koepka or Patrick Reed being very excited about the possibility that they might be beaten by a woman. Please do NOT call me a racist or a chauvinist (I love the LPGA and the Asian players who dominate it – sincerely), but I think the only thing that’ll rekindle interest in women’s pro golf is if a photogenic Caucasian lady breaks through and starts dominating the LPGA again… a new Nancy Lopez.  Brooke and the Korda sisters are coming close to being The One, and if it happens, you’ll start to notice more media interest, fan interest, and TV coverage.

Loughry: I agree, there needs to be a big push to have a men’s and woman’s event happen. It will just take some time to put together. These two Tours have lots of logistics to figure out before this can happen though, scheduling being the toughest to figure. The USGA was close to do something like this in Pinehurst by having the Men’s US Open play #2 one week and the following week having the US Woman’s Open. Be patient, this will just take some time to do.

Schurman: Peter thanks for the ‘cookies’. You are correct! I think there’s a place for events like this as long as there is an established system for equalization. My absolute favourite would be the President’s Cup with the same 12 male players but an additional 6 females for each team and then mix them together for matches. You’d see 2 men Vs 2 women, 2 men Vs 1 man and 1 woman or even a man Vs a woman in the final matches. Perhaps have a public viewed draw from the ‘hat’ the day before the match is to be played. Match # 1, better ball at 8:00 AM, the first player drawn paired with the second player drawn Vs the first player drawn paired with the second player drawn. Boom! A ratings explosion! The Presidents Cup takes on its own identity instead of being a clone of the Ryder Cup and women’s golf gets the visibility it richly deserves.

Kaplan: That would be amazing. Weekly stroke play tournaments get so stale anyway. Let’s change it up! The tours really have nothing to lose anyway. They’re not going to lose fans. Those who were going to watch golf anyway are still going to do so, no matter the format. And if the tours are able to bring in some new viewers and fans as a result, it will be well worth the effort.

Rule: I think our good friend Mr. Schurman has a great point, and a combined event will definitely garner more attention for the ladies.  It is a shame they don’t get more media attention because they are such amazing players.  Is it just that the casual fan likes to see how far players hit the ball?  Is that why the men’s game is more attractive?  Not sure, but I love watching the women play.  The one main challenge with the PGA and LPGA sharing an event is making the tees fair for both sides.  But I for one would like to see them try.  Talk about making world ranking points more confusing though…

Quinn: With all due respect to our esteemed Tablemate, can’t imagine any of the top guns signing on given their already busy and incredibly lucrative schedule. So, at best it would be a second-tier shoulder-season novelty event hard-pressed to avoid giggles. The LPGA Tour does need revenue and exposure but would sponsors and viewers get excited about a two-tee or alternate-shot tourney? Maybe once.

Mumford: I’m not interested at all. I enjoy both the men’s and women’s Tours as they are and don’t see anything to be gained from combining them. A mixed team event like the Presidents Cup or the Olympics would be fun but those are not part of any regular Tour. The Scandinavian Mixed, which will be played next June on the European Tour, will feature 76 men and 76 women, all vying for one purse. It will be a curiosity for sure but is anyone pushing for more? I don’t think so.


The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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