Categorized | 2014, Golf Insight, January 2014, News

The OWGR (Part 2): how it distorts reality

By: Dick van Toulon

OWGR (OFFICIAL WORLD GOLF RANKING): THE US PGA AND EUROPEAN TOURS ARE EQUALLY STRONG

If there would be no difference in strength, the European Tour would have disappeared altogether, because every European pro would have queued up for membership of the US Tour. Most of them don’t even try, because they know full well how much more competitive the US Tour is. Only the most successful European Tour members (incidentally one whose courage is bigger than his sense for reality) try their luck on the US PGA Tour. The superior strength of the US Tour is not the result of prize money alone. It has to do with US college golf, that breeds talent in a very competitive environment.

This is how dual European & US Tour members fared in 2013:

European & US Tour 2013

*Fdez-Castano and Olesen had temporary US Tour playing rights without FedEx Cup ranking, but US Money List rankings deviate little from the FedEx Cup. (Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Hanson’s results ignored because of their injuries). Henrik Stenson had a spectular season, becoming the first European Tour member to win the US FedEx Cup and the European R2D in the same year, something never done before. Justin Rose won the 2013 US Open, the 1st European Tour member since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Sergio Garcia, Charl Schwartzel and Luke Donald qualified for the final FedEx playoff event. David Lynn’s US and European rankings differed marginally. The final FedEx Cup rankings of the other 11 European Tour members illustrate how much more competitive the US PGA tour is.

THE OWGR: COMPARING GOLFERS WHO DON’T COMPETE

How do you rank golfers against each other when they don’t compete head on? The OWGR tries by giving each regional tour its own individual weighting, and subsequently groups everyone together within the same ranking by simply adjusting regional results for the weighting of the regional tour. The problem with the OWGR is that its assumptions are based on historical and political considerations as well, instead of solely on an up-to-date estimation of differences in competitive strength. Its points distribution charter reflects this: the winners of the Japan Open (event purse $2 million), the Australian Open ($1.25 m) and South African Open ($1.13 m) are awarded 32 points versus the winner of a regular US Tour event (purse per event $6 million) 24 points.

The second most important flaw of the OWGR is that it continues to grant points for results up to two years ago. Never mind that the OWGR points system acknowledges the importance of recent results by weighing results of the latest three months 100%, and subsequently downgrading by 1.09% per week until the end of week no. 104 (or a player’s 52nd event, whichever earlier).

My point is that a world ranking should downgrade much faster, and never keep in its weighting results older than one year/52 weeks. Once you understand the OWGR points system, if you want to know where a player is with his game compared to his competitors, you will look at that pro’s up-to-date regional tour ranking, because that doesn’t look further back than the current calendar year. Also, you are comparing results of head on competition. And if you want to compare golfers playing different tours, prize money is your only realistic yardstick (anyone with a better idea, please email me).

An example of how the OWGR ranks non-competitors (OWGR 17-Nov-13):

2013—R2D no. 63 Paul Lawrie = OWGR no. 90—prize money EUR 513,000
2013—FedEx no. 32 Matthew Jones = OWGR no. 100—prize money US$ 1.7 million

The OWGR

In 2012, ten years after his last top 10 finish on the European Order of Merit, Lawrie finally seemed to have his game back in the kind of shape that he displayed around the turn of the millennium, finishing tenth on the R2D. Sadly, that didn’t last, and in 2013 Lawrie’s results went south once again, failing to get into the final 2013 R2D event, for which only the top 60 qualify.

Matt Jones’ (33) performance in 2012 and 2013 is the mirror image of Lawrie’s in 2012, where he lost his PGA tour card. To get it back, he had to return to Qualifying School, every professional’s nightmare. But Jones passed with flying colours (T14), and in 2013 started competing successfully and consistently. On the final 2013 FedEx Cup ranking he finished no. 32, barely missing the final play off event, for which only the top 30 qualify. Still, he left behind quite a few big names, amongst whom European superstars Lee Westwood (41), Rory McIlroy (50), Ian Poulter (53), Graeme McDowell (55) and Ernie Els (68).

Ergo, 2013 was Jones’ first really successful year on the strongest tour in the world, while Lawrie’s results on a considerably weaker tour went in reverse once again.

Any world ranking based on realistic grounds will award results on the US Tour a multiple of what it grants for the European Tour; difference in prize money suggests three to four times.

To ignore this completely leads to complete nonsense. Jones’ no. 32 on the final 2013 FedEx Cup ranking versus Lawrie’s no. 63 on the European R2D is turned upside down by the OWGR, because it gives European Tour events the same points that it grants US Tour events. And the OWGR continues to reward Lawrie’s very good results in 2012, that by Nov-13 lost relevance entirely, in case you want to know where Lawrie “is” with his game. So if you, too, take the OWGR for what it is not, and draw the conclusion, that on 17-Nov-13 Paul Lawrie “is” no. 90 in the world, while Matthew Jones “is” no. 100, you are very seriously confused, indeed.

Professional tour associations and event managers of the strongest events in the world who take their events seriously should stick to qualification tools that give them the strongest possible field: players that can be expected to have a realistic chance to contend.

Sadly, the OWGR continues to be misused as yardstick no. 1 to determine which professionals deserve exemption from qualification. The result: weak fields.

Imagine for one moment that the OWGR would announce that it will downgrade the European Tour compared to the US Tour, by 75%. Don’t bet your money on the people running the OWGR mustering the political courage required to even consider it. But if gambling on the outcome of professional golf events is what you want, you better stay away from the OWGR, as far as you can. A fair guess is that the ranked professionals will do everything within their own power to keep the OWGR unchanged, with its snail-like adjustment to changing trends in their results, especially when they are heading south, a fate no pro escapes.

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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