Categorized | News, 2013, December 2013

How the OWGR is misused (part 1)

By: Dick van Toulon

Henrik Stenson

Sweden’s Henrik Stenson the real World No. 1

World professional golf is played on different, separate and regional tours: in declining importance (read: prize money) the six leading tours US PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, South African Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour and Australasian Tour. Other smaller tours are the Canadian Tour, OneAsia, Latinoamerica, Korean Tour and the 2nd divisions of the US Tour ( and the European Tour (Challenge Tour). The US Tour is by far the richest: to be accepted  on the official tour agenda, an event must offer a minimum total purse of $ 6.5 million, of which $ 1 million goes to the winner. Average prize money on the second richest regional tour, the European Tour, is EUR 1.9 million per event, or 75 % less. No. 3, the Japan Golf Tour, offers roughly 50 % less than the European Tour. And so forth. Regional tour events are open to members of that tour. Few professionals have dual membership of different tours. The result is, that competition between members of different regional tours hardly, if ever, occurs.

Eight of the richest and most important tournaments on the annual golf agenda worldwide, of which six are played in the US, form an exception to the rule that professional golf is played on different, isolated tours. These eight do not restrict qualification to members of any regional tour: the three Majors, i.e. US Open, The [British] Open and the USPGA; the four World Golf Championship (WGC) events; and The Masters. The three Majors apply similar qualifying tools: the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), updated weekly, of one to three weeks prior to the event, winners of flagship events of various regional tours, and current US Money List and European Race to Dubai ranking; a handful of world top amateurs; and last, but certainly not least, 40 to 50 real qualifiers, who have to play themselves through special qualifying tournaments held worldwide a few weeks before the major itself is being played, to prove that they have the form of the day required to contend in a top event. The WGC events use one of the latest OWGR in combination with more or less recent, up to date official rankings of regional tours, first of all the US and European Tours. A handful of successful local tour members are thrown in to draw spectators. WGC’s don’t organize qualifying events. The Masters being The Masters does it very differently. It does not accept real qualifiers, either, but invites about half of its field of 96 (compared to 156 in the three majors) based mostly on results that have nothing to do with current form, a shaky ground for an event pretending to be a “major”: all past winners of the Masters can return, for as long as they wish, no matter how old they are. Some take this too literally. In 2013 fifteen still couldn’t help themselves, and joined the party again (the Masters pampers them like royalty). In 2009, after 52 years returning to the Masters (a truly sad record), 75 years old Gary Player, who won his first of three Masters titles in 1961, finally threw in the towel. The Masters invites the top 50 of an OWGR of three months old, while a current OWGR is already out of date. Each year too many in this last category start seriously underperforming in the months leading up to The Masters, while their OWGR qualification for the Masters stays a done deal. The end result is that the Masters field falls far short of the strength and depth that a major field should have. But since the Masters also opens its doors to at least one or a few members of many regional tours, it qualifies as one of the eight world golf events, be it by far the weakest and least important.

So what’s wrong with the OWGR, and how is it being misused ?

1) Players’ rankings are based on results up to two y-e-a-r-s old:

To judge where a professional is with his game right now, his recent results are the least unreliable indicator. In golf reliable indicators of how someone will perform next week do not exist. “Recent” in golf doesn’t go beyond three months. Older results are rapidly getting out of date, and lose relevance. Results from 3 to 6 months old should be weighed less than half of results not older than three months: say 40 %. Results 6 to 9 months old should be downgraded once again to less than half: 15 %. Even older results are entirely useless. Why? “The Dreaded Slump”, to which every pro falls victim, more than once during his career. Some never get out of their first slump, never to be heard from again. There is one reason why nine to twelve months old results might be taken into some consideration, be it for not more than 5 %: golf is a very mental game, and year end for a professional is a psychological breakpoint. That’s when he contemplates his past year, and asks himself what next year will have in store.
For many their performance in the new-year is going to be remarkably inconsistent with how they did last year.

But the OWGR takes results up to two y-e-a-r-s old into their calculation of a professional’s performance. Consequently, the OWGR does not show where a pro’s game is today, but rather how he was doing six to nine months ago. Because out of the 24 months taken into the OWGR’s equation, it gives three times more weight to results of the last three months. Obviously, the ranked pros have no problem with that: this provides a great safety net under their next slump! Two years is a very generous time span to get out of your slump, and yet remain excempt from qualification. Because all regional tour associations and event managers use the OWGR as an important qualifying tool, throughout his slump the professional continues to be excempt from qualification: his OWGR ranking goes down very slowly, while the moment his slump hits him, his results go through the floor. In September 2010 US Presidents’ Cup captain Fred Couples stated in front of the press, that Tiger Woods would be one of his captain’s picks in any case, because “after all, Tiger is still no. 1”. Couples stopped short of saying “on the OWGR”, which is what he must have meant. Because it cannot have escaped his attention, that Woods by Sep 2010 had dropped to no. 142 on the US Tour Money list, and didn’t even qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. But Woods’ 2009 results had been so stellar (he won almost 40 % of the events he played in, something never done before or since), that after 10 miserable months according to the OWGR still nobody had managed to overtake him. After he shot himself in the foot in 2009 Woods could have taken up fishing instead, and one year later still be the OWGR’s no. 1.

About Dick van Toulon

Dick van Toulon van der Koog (61, Dutch, what’s in a name ?) is a pensionado resident of Jakarta. He has been a keen follower (obsessed is the right word, according to friends) of the US and European golf tours, ever since he took up golf in 1973. A mediocre amateur golfer, he thoroughly enjoys the great courses of Jabotabek. If his knowledge of historical professional golf data borders on the bizar: so what ?

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