Isn’t being the champion enough?

Some in the golf media are irate at what they perceive as a flawed field for the Olympic golf competition.

Udayan Mane (pictured above) is a 30-year-old golfer from India, currently ranked 386th in the world. That’s rather good when you consider that there are some 60 million golfers worldwide that are ranked behind him and just 385 in front. But in a field of the world’s elite golfers, Mr. Mane probably feels a bit conspicuous. He has 11 professional wins on the Indian and Asian Tours but no majors, no WGC’s, not even a Barbasol Championship. Yet Udayan Mane could win a Gold Medal in the Olympics. Why? Because he’s in the field and a lot of guys ranked ahead of him are not.

In fact, when you look at the players in Tokyo this week, there are a lot of Udayan Manes. None of them has a realistic chance at a Gold Medal but due to the process for selecting participants, the governing bodies have to reach way down the World Rankings to find eligible players. And then they have to reach even further down to add a second team member. Hence the media gripe about strength of field.

But let’s face it, strength of field only matters for world ranking points and betting. Nobody really understands the World Golf Rankings. Sorry, the “Official” World Golf Rankings. (Is there an unofficial version we have to worry about?) To demonstrate how absolutely incomprehensible they are, Jon Rahm won the U.S. Open Championship in June and moved ahead of Dustin Johnson into the #1 spot. The following week, neither played in a tournament and DJ re-took the top spot without ever firing a shot. The week after that, they flipped positions again.

Perhaps someone can decipher the algorithm that puts Mr. Rahm on top and Mr. Mane way down in the low 300’s but almost nobody cares. But to hear these media types complain about strength of field, you’d think the winner of the Gold Medal isn’t deserving because he didn’t beat anyone of note, or at least not all of them. As it stands now, neither Rahm or Johnson are playing in Tokyo, the latter by choice and the former based on a positive COVID test. World #6 Bryson DeChambeau is out too based on his own positive COVID test. Does that void the tournament because three of the world’s best are missing?

What does being #1 even mean? Does that make you the best? The World’s Greatest? Maybe, but none of those designations get you a trophy or a Gold Medal. Bragging rights for sure. Maybe some additional millions in endorsements. Certainly a few mentions in the latest Grill Room debate. Otherwise, zilch.

An old episode of Seinfeld featured an argument between Jerry’s dad, Morty Seinfeld and Izzy Mandelbaum about whether World’s Greatest Dad was better than #1 Dad. Very humorous but totally pointless.

To put it into a more local context, one might argue that it’s also pointless to have a Club Championship. Simply give the trophy to the player with the lowest handicap. After all, he’s proven over the course of a season that he’s the best player.

But championships aren’t about deciding who’s #1. They’re about finding winners. ‘#1’, as we can see, is about a collection of activities, events or algorithms that provide some calculated outcome over a period of time. ‘Winning’ is about being best today. To do that, you can’t be matched against a list of players, some of whom aren’t even in the field. You can only beat the players that show up, regardless of how they got there or were selected. If you do, you’re the champion. Period.

Those that find fault with the Olympic Golf competition want the strongest 60-man field possible. Currently, 30 of the top 60 are American. What kind of Olympics would that be?

Someone is going to win a Gold Medal on Sunday. Whether it’s a top ranked player or Udayan Mane, it won’t mean he’s the best player in the world, best of all time (a totally different debate) or anything more than he was the best player this week at these Olympics. Nothing more, nothing less.

Shouldn’t that be enough?

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

2 thoughts on “Isn’t being the champion enough?

  1. Peter, you captured the essence of the strength of field debate on Olympic golf event perfectly. You play who shows up for Olympic golf event period and all the competing countries get a representative if they meet a minimum standard… not sure why the golf media gets tied up in knots about the olympics 🙂

    1. Thanks Mark. I think it turned out pretty well as it was and generated a great champion and an exciting finish. BTW, we miss you in the League. Let me know if you ever want to play.

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