KAPALUA, Hawaii – After winning the 2015 WGC-Match Play, Rory McIlroy spoke of waking up the next morning and checking the most recent world rankings, which featured the Northern Irishman squarely atop the pack.
On Tuesday at Kapalua, Jason Day spoke at length about wanting to keep the No. 1 ranking, which he has held since last March, for an entire year and doubled down on the importance of being the world’s best.
“I know what I need to do. I just need to keep working hard and practicing, and hopefully the results come with the process,” Day said. “That's one of the goals this year. Obviously the goals are to win majors and win as much as I can, but win majors and try and stay No. 1 for the whole year.”
But not every player holds the ranking and convoluted math in such high regard.
Consider Dustin Johnson, who begins the new season at the SBC Tournament of Champions ranked third in the world after a career season in ’16 that included his first major victory at the U.S. Open and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.
“It's a complete new year, so we've got all new goals and new things that I want to do,” Johnson said.
Would those new benchmarks include covering the 1.38 average ranking points he needs to overtake Day atop the World Ranking?
“Of course, I want to be the best. But you know, obviously there's ways to get there and that's by winning golf tournaments,” Johnson said. “I don't really focus on becoming No. 1 as much as I do just playing the golf tournament that I'm playing, putting myself in position to win it on Sunday.”
In fact, Johnson figured he hadn’t even checked the world rankings since November and probably won’t be calculating the math on Sunday if he were to win the Tournament of Champions for the second time.
The reality is that the vast majority of players rank becoming world No. 1 well behind winning a major and many other high-profile accomplishments like claiming the FedEx Cup.
Pop quiz: how many weeks has Tiger Woods held the top spot in the world? Your off-the-shelf fan probably wouldn’t know that number (683 weeks), but ask the same fan how many majors Woods has won and most will have a ready answer (14).
Most of the attention paid the world ranking is a byproduct of the media. Ascending to the top of the world ranking heap is something to be proud of, but it’s the accomplishments that add up to that magic number that are really worth celebrating.