The Sirens Song
At the dawn of the 2009 season one would have thought the PGA Tour was bound for Triple A status given the amount of handwringing going on within the fourth estate. The European Tour had recently introduced its lucrative Race to Dubai and according to many reports PGA Tour regulars were flinging themselves across the Atlantic Ocean like swallows to Capistrano.
The lure of a $10 million payout at the season-ending Dubai World Championship was enough to draw the likes of Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Boo Weekley and Trevor Immelman to European Tour membership. Vijay Singh and Adam Scott retained their European cards in 2009, and even Phil Mickelson was mulling an expansion of his international schedule.
Im just not ready now to commit (to full membership), Mickelson said last year in China. Im not going to rule it out for the future. I think thats where the game is growing and is heading.
European Tour members must play at least 12 events a season, including a minimum of two on Europe soil. The four majors count toward the minimum, as do the four World Golf Championships (the HSBC Championship is set to join the WGC lineup this year), but that still left players needing four more starts.
The massive payouts have prompted a number of leading stars . . . to join the European Tour . . . creating possible detours away from the PGA Tour on occasion, warned one national scribe.
Lost amid all the exodus talk was the fine print. Weekley and Kim signed on for affiliate membership, which cost more than a regular card (2,000 pounds compared to 150 pounds) but doesnt require that players participate in the 12-tournament minimum. Affiliate members can, however, qualify for the Race for Dubai by finishing in the top 60 on the Order of Merit.
In Weekleys case, that means the souths favorite son can play eight to 10 events in Europe, including this weeks Qatar Masters and the Scottish Open in July, participate in his normal 25-27 PGA Tour events and still have some free time for hunting season.
Ditto for Kim, who was disqualified from the HSBC Championship in November but still plans to play all of the WGCs and majors as well as the Malaysian Open and Johnnie Walker Classic in February.
In many ways, affiliate membership gives top PGA Tour players the best of both worlds ' schedule flexibility, access to the Dubai jackpot and appearance fees, which are not allowed on the PGA Tour.
I dont understand why anyone who can demand an appearance fee doesnt do it, said one long-time player manager. Its a perfect fit.
Affiliate membership does bring its share of challenges. If an affiliate member qualifies for the Race for Dubai he would be required to take full membership in 2010.
Players also are required to obtain a competing-event release for European Tour starts that are not co-sponsored by the PGA Tour, meaning every start that is not a major or WGC. As a general rule, Tour players are granted three releases based on their participation in 15 Tour events each year. They are granted an additional release for every five events they play above the 15-event minimum.
PGA Tour members who claim the European Tour as their home circuit are not required to have a release to participate in events played in continental Europe. But the circuit has 17 events scheduled outside of Europe this season. It is little surprise then that seven players were granted releases to play last week in Abu Dhabi and nine were issued for this weeks stop in Qatar.
Some fallout can already be felt on the PGA Tour. World Ranking points, which are based on the strength of each field, have started to skew toward Europe at certain events. The number of ranking points awarded to Zach Johnson for winning last weeks Sony Open (44) were less than those given to Paul Casey (48), who won the European Tour stop in Abu Dhabi.
Expect a similar scenario this week when the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which features five of the top 40 players in the world, is played opposite the Qatar Masters, which includes 13 of the top 40.
Despite the math, more players will likely follow Kim and Weekley across time zones and international datelines. The up side of duel membership is too compelling for players, and equipment companies that view international markets as primary growth areas. Many see the global market (see golfs push to earn a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games) as golfs answer to the current economic downturn.
No, foreign memberships, be they affiliate or otherwise, are not a threat to the PGA Tour. Insular thinking is.
Email your thoughts to Rex Hoggard
Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open
Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)
Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.
Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.
Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.
Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.
Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.
It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.
That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.
“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told GolfChannel.com. “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.
“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”
Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.
“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”
After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.
Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.
And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.
“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.
Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.
“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”
Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.
“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”
Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.
And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.
And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.
“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”
Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.
There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.
In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.
“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”
Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.
“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.
Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.
“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’
“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”
How Rahm can overtake DJ for OWGR No. 1 this week
Editor's note: Information and text provided by Golf Channel's Official World Golf Ranking expert, Alan Robison.
Despite having fewer worldwide wins, fewer top-5 finishes, fewer top-25 finishes and more missed cuts over the past two years, Jon Rahm is poised to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking with a win in this week’s Farmers Insurance Open.
The Rise of Rahm is meteoric, but how is this possible? After all, Rahm has five worldwide wins vs. eight for Johnson in the same span?
We’ll start with the raw numbers over the 104-week cycle of the Official World Golf Ranking. These numbers include a win for Rahm in this week’s Farmers (the only way he could get to No. 1; DJ is not playing):
|Dustin Johnson||Jon Rahm|
|Wins||8 (1 major, 3 WGCs)||5 (3 PGA Tour, 2 Euro)|
|Top 5 finishes||20||16|
|Top 10 finishes||26||19|
|Top 25 finishes||37||26|
|MC or 0 OWGR Pts earned||4||7|
Johnson leads Rahm in every possible category, so you may be wondering, again, how is Rahm replacing DJ possible?
To understand this, you would need to understand the Official World Golf Ranking, which is all about the power of math, a recency bias and the divisor.
The ranking system can feel a bit overwhelming, so here are a couple of topline bullet points:
- The ranking is a 104-week period (two years) that evaluates a player’s performance.
- Events are given a certain weight and bigger events have a higher point total.
- Majors are worth 100 points to the winner. The Players champ is given 80 points. From there, you will see events weighted in the 70s for most WGCs, down to 24 for PGA Tour events opposite WGCs and majors.
- The number assigned to an event has to do with the quality of field – the more top 10/20/50/100 players that are in a field, the higher the weighting.
Next, you can look at how recent the event was to determine its true value to a player. Dustin Johnson’s 2016 U.S. Open victory was given 100 points, but now he’s only receiving 23.9 percent of its original weight. Conversely, Rahm’s win at the CareerBuilder Challenge was only worth 40 points, but because it happened on Sunday, he’s receiving the full allotment of points.
Why is DJ getting 23.9 percent of his U.S. Open total? Doesn’t that seem arbitrary? Actually, the OWGR has an intricate formula to determine the value of events. Any event a player has started in the previous 13 weeks is given full value. For the remaining 91 weeks, events drop off at a rate of 1.09 percent until they eventually fall off. Here’s an example:
- Event 25 weeks ago: 86.96 percent of value
- Event 50 weeks ago: 59.78 percent of value
- Event 75 weeks ago: 32.61 percent of value
- Event 100 weeks ago: 5.43 percent of value
With a win at Farmers, Rahm would have three victories and a runner-up finish inside the last 13 weeks. That would total to 175.60, given full-point value. After this week, DJ would only have three events in the last 13 weeks and those finishes are T9-win-T14, for a total of 67.32.
Rahm is taking advantage of the full value for three of his five professional wins.
There is still one more important piece of the formula and that’s the divisor.
The OWGR has determined that each player must have a minimum number of events and a maximum number of events, in order to protect players.
For instance, when Rahm won the Farmers a year ago he received 54 points. It was his 13th event and if 13 had been his divisor he would have had an OWGR total of 4.15, immediately placing him inside the top 20. Instead, to be more fair, it’s divided by the minimum number of 40 events played, giving him 1.35, which was around 110th (Rahm, though, had received enough points in his other 12 events that his win moved him to 46th in the OWGR at the time).
The maximum number is as important as the minimum. Many players compete in up to 60 events over the course of two years. Instead of hurting them by counting every event, the OWGR only counts the 52 most recent events in the 104-week cycle.
Why is the divisor so important? Because math. If a player wins a major (100 points) and has the minimum divisor, that major is worth 2.5 points (100/40). A player winning that same major who has the max divisor (52 events) only gains 1.92 points.
In the case of Rahm and Johnson, it’s Rahm who is taking advantage of his divisor in attaining maximum value for his play. Here’s a table of what it would look like after this week (again calculating for a Rahm win) to help explain:
|Dustin Johnson||Jon Rahm|
|Total points earned:||960.82||557.26|
|OWGR valued points||493.08||433.39|
|Projected OWGR after Farmers||10.72||10.83|
What’s amazing about these numbers is that Rahm is still maintaining 77.78 percent of his original value on the points that he’s earned. As we said earlier, three wins are 100 percent. His Irish Open win is 81.82 percent, while even his 2017 Farmers victory is still earning 56.5 percent of its original value.
On the other side, DJ is only maintaining 51.3 percent of his total points earned.
And there you have it. The math favors Rahm, who is still on the outset of his career. Eventually, it will hurt him. But, for now – and right now – Rahm has an opportunity to take all of these numbers and turn them into the world’s No. 1 ranking.
To do that, the scenario is quite simple: Win this week.
Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?
Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.
Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.
Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.
Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.
Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.
Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.
Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.
Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.
Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.
Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.
Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.