Here’s everything you need to know about professional golf in the 21st century.
After defeating Luke Donald in the final of the Volvo World Match Play Championship, Ian Poulter reported that he would celebrate by drinking champagne on a private flight from Spain back to the U.K. with a friend.
That friend? Luke Donald.
Call it a case of strange bedfellows or a terrific nod toward camaraderie, but either way it’s a sign of the times. Just like the ever-evolving World Ranking – for so long an afterthought, but now at the forefront of so many debates on a weekly basis.
Or is it? The Weekly 18 begins with an examination as to whether the number next to a player’s name is important or not.
1. WORLD OF IMPORTANCE
Welcome to the latest edition of “As the World Ranking Turns.”
“I just learn to live with it,” Westwood said before the event. “And I'm not really worried about it. We are all out here with the purpose of trying to win golf tournaments, really.”
He’s right. And yet, the increasing volatility of the OWGR makes it a continuing subplot within the game, even overshadowing actual tournament results at times.
One of those times occurred on Sunday, when it could be argued that Donald’s journey toward the No. 1 ranking may have been of more importance than the match play victory needed to secure that title.
In the end, neither happened. But it raises a question that’s been asked with more frequent regularity in recent months: Does a player’s World Ranking even matter?
Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of “matter.”
No, the number next to someone’s name shouldn’t supersede things like his victory total and the ol’ eyeball test. But yes, it matters in a way that it puts into some form of mathematical context how players are faring in comparison with each other.
Consider what Kaymer had to say about Donald after losing to him in the Volvo semifinals: “He never really opens the door for you and it felt a little bit impossible. He really deserves to become the No. 1.'
There’s a difference, though, between a fellow player believing someone should be No. 1 and actually getting there. We’ve seen Phil Mickelson repeatedly fail to reach the top spot during the past two years and now Donald has been unsuccessful in a playoff at Harbour Town and in the Volvo final against Poulter.
Being ranked as the best in the world isn’t as important as winning tournaments, but it still matters. It matters to the players and it should matter to the rest of us, too.
2. IAN POULTER
Quick: Who is currently the best match-play competitor in the world?
For years, the no-brainer answer was Tiger Woods, but that response obviously doesn’t apply for the time being. And so in their final match at Finca Cortesin, Poulter and Luke Donald were not only battling for the tournament title, but this figurative one, as well.
With his victory, Poulter should now be considered the game’s preeminent performer in this format.
The truest barometer of how proficient a player is at match play may be how much better he fares than in stroke play events. This isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment to Poulter, but there’s no mistaking the fact that he’s a much more ruthless competitor when going to head-to-head against a single opponent rather than an entire field.
Poulter is now the first player to have won both the Volvo and Accenture match play titles and his 5-2-0 career Ryder Cup record includes an unblemished mark in singles matches.
If needing one player to win a match, there are more talented and accomplished players from which to choose. You won’t find a grittier competitor than Poulter, though, and that makes him the obvious selection right now as the best match-play guy in the world.
3. DAVID TOMS
Two weeks ago, Toms decided to go for the green on the par-5 16th hole at TPC-Sawgrass, finding the water hazard and eventually losing in a playoff.
On Sunday, he laid up at Colonial’s par-5 11th hole, then holed his wedge shot for eagle to win the tournament.
Anyone else see the moral to this story?
Those equipment commercials urging us to “never lay up” preach about being macho in order to win, but strategy can still beat blindly going for it every time.
Of course, first discussing the technical aspect of Toms’ course management is to bury the lede, which is the ultimate story of redemption after his near-miss at The Players Championship one week earlier. It may have been the perfect bounceback scenario for Toms, who not only unabashedly loves Colonial, but had a superior career record on the course without ever previously winning there.
Actually, it was a rare double-bounceback. After opening with scores of 62-62, he lost a seven-stroke 36-hole lead on Saturday only to regain it one day later en route to the victory.
And much like the guy for whom Hogan’s Alley is named, the latest champion did it his way.
4. SUZANN PETTERSEN
As far as droughts go, Suzann Pettersen’s didn’t last that long.
She last won an LPGA event in late-2009, but it’s not the time between wins that had taken its toll. It was the close calls.
Since winning the Canadian Women’s Open two years ago, she compiled a half-dozen runner-up finishes on the circuit and 10 other top-10s. She finally broke that streak by defeating Cristie Kerr in the final of the Sybase Match Play Championship.
“It’s been a while. Finally!” she told me when we spoke via telephone Sunday evening. “I work hard, but I never thought it was going to come in match play. I always thought it would be a stroke play event.”
Pettersen won by outlasting Kerr in cold, wet conditions in New Jersey – a matchup between friends and frequent practice round partners.
“It was all game-face today,” Pettersen said. “She’s a great friend of mine, we practice together a lot. But today it was game on, no chit-chat.”
If that doesn’t tell you everything about Pettersen’s famous intensity, consider this. I asked her if playing Kerr in this format got her into the mood for the upcoming Solheim Cup. She simply replied with a two-word answer: “Game on!”
5. TIGER WOODS
It’s easy to pile on.
Woods has endured both scandal and injury, each of which are now taking a statistical toll on his numerical status. For the first time since the week of April 6, 1997 – one week prior to winning his first major championship at The Masters – he is now outside of the top-10 on the Official World Golf Ranking, placing 12th on the latest list.
He’s going to keep dropping, too. If – as expected – Woods is forced to skip next week’s Memorial Tournament, at least one estimation has him at somewhere around 17th by the time he intends to make his next start at the U.S. Open.
And while it’s now easy to discuss how fall the mighty has fallen, we should also take a minute to celebrate the accomplishment.
Woods remained in the top-10 for more than 14 full years, serving as the No. 1-ranked player for nearly a dozen years combined, closing this part of the streak at 623 weeks. That’s nearly twice as much time as Greg Norman, who ranks second all-time for most weeks atop the list.
Don’t expect Tiger to bounce back into the top-10 immediately once he’s healthy, though. Over the next four months, he will lose five victories from the 2009 campaign. Obviously, those are weighted less than any recent results – which basically means he doesn’t need to replace those five titles with five more in coming months simply to tread water – but anytime a player has wins dropping from his ledger, he will lose valuable ranking points.
There have been many “end of an era” sentiments in regard to Woods over the past year. Like those, his failure to remain in the top-10 is yet another symbol of the recent fallout, but that doesn’t mean we should forget that era, either.
6. BELEN MOZO
“I don’t even know her. I’ve never played with her.”
That was Belen Mozo prior to her second-round match with Cristie Kerr at the Sybase.
Yes, that would be the same Cristie Kerr who owns 14 career LPGA victories. The same Cristie Kerr who won last year’s LPGA Championship by a dozen strokes.
And the same Cristie Kerr who defeated Mozo by a 7 and 6 margin on Friday.
Well, at least Mozo knows her now.
7. MCCORMACK, LARSON AND GABIELSSON
There was a time when allowing your company to sponsor a golf tournament would secure a spot in the pro-am and a comfy chair in the hospitality tent.
It comes with so much more now.
There was the McCormack group, in honor of the late Mark McCormack, founder of IMG. In case that little piece of information didn’t clue you in, yes, this was an IMG-run event.
At least McCormack is a major name in the golf game. Gustaf Larson and Assar Gabrielsson? Gotta admit: I needed to Google their names, because I had no idea. Turns out they were the cofounders of Volvo, which happens to have a little hand in this tourney, too.
Hey, I guess when you put your hard-earned dollars into an event, you’re free to do what you like with it, but this reeked of unnecessary and pointless self-aggrandizement.
8. STAT OF THE WEEK
With his victory, David Toms has now hit for the cycle at Colonial.
He finished second in 2002, third in 2005 and fourth in 2000.
Here’s guessing he’d rather win again next year than get one for the thumb.
9. STAT OF THE WEEK II
For the geeks – and I use that term admiringly – who get revved up over WAR, OPS, VORP and other acronyms in baseball, this new statistic will serve as hours of endless entertainment. The rest of us will simply live in confusion.
Going into this week, the 53-year-old was exactly 125th on the money list with $251,600 -- all for finishing third at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in his only start of the season.
10. VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Ian Poulter may have won his 11th career European Tour title on Sunday, but his final round may be better remembered for this fall while trying to hit a difficult shot on the hillside.
Interesting to note that while Poulter didn’t injure himself on the swing, he was very concerned about possible grass stains on his wardrobe.
11. TWEET OF THE WEEK
@WestwoodLee Well -19 for 45 holes and off home . You've got to love matchplay .
As of column deadline, that was the final tweet for No. 1-ranked Lee Westwood, who recently threatened to close his account due to abusive tweets from followers.
12. QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“It's on the rocks. Too bad there's no gin and tonic to go with it.’” – European Tour announcer, describing Luke Donald’s tee shot on the fourth hole of the Volvo final match landing on the rock wall bordering a water hazard.
13. FROM THE INBOX
I’ve been asked the following question so many times in recent months that I can smell it coming from a mile away: “Who is the next American superstar golfer?”
Instead of prognosticating’s version of pulling a name out of a hat, I’m going to defer on this one and answer another question instead: “Who is the next Belgian superstar golfer?”
Glad you asked.
Nicolas Colsaerts already has the Volvo China Open title under his belt this season and the big hitter nearly pulled off another Volvo win this weekend, leading Ian Poulter late in their semifinal match before losing in extra holes.
Trust me: This guy is good.
His rise reminds me a little of that of Martin Kaymer, who was firmly entrenched on the radar screens of most golf insiders for years, but didn’t reach mainstream fans until the last year or two. Don’t be surprised if Colsaerts – who was 108th in the world before last week’s event -- enjoys a similar progression in the next few years.
One thing is for sure: He’s definitely the best Belgian out there.
14. I WISH THERE WAS MORE CREATIVITY IN GOLF
Not suggesting we completely revamp the game in order to try and bring a few more people aboard, but I’ve always been an advocate of not being afraid of change.
A few things – both subtle and otherwise – popped up in the past week that would certainly qualify for creativity.
I enjoyed the ingenuity at both the Volvo World Match Play Championship and Sybase Match Play Championship. The Volvo featured a World Cup-style group format, meaning players who traveled from halfway around the world would at least be guaranteed two matches. Meanwhile, the Sybase allowed the top-ranked half of its field to select golf balls with an opponent’s name as a way of determining the brackets.
And then there was the not-so-subtle, as Jack Nicklaus discussed instituting 12-hole rounds and even producing 12-hole scorecards at Muirfield Village and Bear’s Club.
'It's the health of the game, the growth of the game, keeping people in the game, that I'm interested in,” he told reporters last week.
You may not like the idea. But the point is, at least it’s an idea. Even a game that’s been around for centuries still continually needs new ones.
15. I WISH THERE WAS A BETTER OPTION FOR MODERATELY INJURED PRO GOLFERS
I recently heard about one PGA Tour player who will remain anonymous because I haven’t been able to confirm his story. It’s a familiar refrain, though: This guy is hurt, but not that hurt -- which is to say, he could play if he needed to. And yet, he isn’t 100 percent, so instead of trying to compete through an injury and risk losing his card, he’s issued himself the ol’ DNP-CD for the time being.
Why not try to “gut it up” and compete? Because for players who don’t own exemptions past this season, staying home is actually more beneficial than trying to play through an injury.
I spoke with Gary Woodland recently about his personal Catch-22, when he tried to play through a rotator cuff injury during his rookie season two years ago. As an athlete, he wanted to keep giving it a try, but those close to him convinced him to call it a season in June after missing the cut in 10 of 18 starts. Doing so allowed him to receive a medical extension for the next season.
Of course, it’s difficult to point out a problem without also proffering a solution, but I’m not sure there’s an appropriate one here. Really, the only other option is for the PGA Tour to stop offering medical extensions to injured players, thereby forcing them to play through any maladies. Such a proposal mirrors treatment of athletes in team sports, but remember, there’s one major difference: Those guys get paid no matter what; golfers get paid what they earn.
And so the result is that players who may only be moderately injured force themselves to sit out until fully healthy in order to be awarded with the largest possible extension. It’s not a great option, but there may be no better ones that exist, either.
16. I WISH RORY SABBATINI'S MOTIVES WEREN'T SO TRANSPARENT
Here’s a dirty little secret about the PGA Tour’s resident bad boy: He’s actually a pretty good guy.
Sabbatini may detest slow play (who doesn’t?) and had some issues with fellow competitors, but he does more charity work than most other pros, often donating time and money to many military-related causes.
He should be applauded for such efforts as much as he is criticized for any boorish behavior.
And yet, with Sabbatini reportedly appealing a potential suspension, his recent actions seem more than a little disingenuous.
First he reached out to Sean O’Hair, one of those aforementioned competitors with whom his dustup is the reason for the possible disciplinary measure. Then on Sunday, it was announced that Sabo would pay for the furnishing of a home that was recently donated to a Wounded Warrior.
As if those weren’t enough, Rory was shown on the telecast raking a bunker for his playing partner’s caddie – almost a comical display of good intentions.
I could be wrong here, but it all reeks of a schoolboy attempting to stave off detention by cleaning off his teacher’s erasers after class
17. ON THE HOT SEAT ... BUBBA WATSON
I recently wrote that every time Bubba Watson cashes a nice paycheck, he should send a thank you card to Jason Gore.
For those who don’t know the story, back in 2005 the Nationwide Tour only graduated 20 players to the big leagues. Gore won three times, receiving an in-season battlefield promotion, and so the tour went 21 deep instead and offered a card to one extra player.
That player was Watson.
When I sat down with Bubba last week, I asked if he ever thanked Gore. He knew exactly what I was talking about.
“I sent his wife flowers,” Watson said, “and I sent him chocolates – because I knew he’d eat them all!”
The rest is history, as Watson played his rookie season on the PGA Tour in 2006, kept his card and has since won three times and played in The Ryder Cup. He sat down on the Hot Seat to discuss the maturity process over those years.
Q: When you first came onto the tour, you were thought to be a bit arrogant. Is that a fair description?
A: I wouldn’t say arrogant; I would say angry. Thinking I was better than I was. Not mad at people, just mad at why I wasn’t winning, why I wasn’t playing better, why I wasn’t top-tenning. Things like that, things that everybody thinks about – it’s human nature. But I let it bother me too much. I didn’t care who wins the tournament; I just thought I should be there. I’m not saying I was better than anybody else. That’s what psychologists want you to think; they want you to think you’re better than you are. But it was affecting me on the course. Off the course, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve always been a fun person – that’s why my wife married me. On the golf course, she probably wouldn’t have married me. It’s slowly learning and realizing that golf or whatever your job is doesn’t mean anything. You know, it’s friends and family, it’s my faith, it’s the other stuff. Because my job and golf is not going to define who I am as a person. It took me a while to understand that and realize that the media, the fans, all the people are pulling for me. It took me a while to realize that no one is trying to hurt me. They just want to watch some good golf.
Q: Was there a eureka moment when it all kicked in for you or was it more gradual?
A: It was very gradual, really slow steps. It was a rough year last year because of my dad. You think your dad is invincible; you don’t think he’s ever going to pass away. With him going through the cancer and knowing they couldn’t treat it and he was just slowly withering away, my caddie knew I was having a rough year. I was reading my Bible and trying to grow, even though I was having a tough time. We also had a scare with my wife, thought she had a tumor in her brain, but she didn’t. There was just a lot of stuff going on. For me to come out ahead and play good golf, even though my dad and all of those situations were going on, I learned a lot. But when my caddie told me that, as a friend, he was going to leave, that hit home. If he left, there are other caddies out there. But it just hit home that a friend would say that to me. So for him to tell me that he was going to leave because he couldn’t stand to see a friend go through this emotion, that took a big man to step up and say that. Knowing that he was getting paid pretty good, that he could lose his job, it was a big thing. My wife had been telling me that, but I was taking slow steps. It helped me take a big leap forward when he said that to me.
Q: Was your victory at last year’s Travelers Championship sort of the culmination of all of that coming together?
A: You know, it was. That was a weird week. Instead of playing a practice round on Tuesday, we went to a water park. I hit balls for 10 minutes and said, “This is boring. Let’s go to the water park.” So we went and goofed around for four hours. I was dead tired the next day, my arms were hurting from swimming around. But we decided to just start having fun on the golf course – and off the golf course at tournaments. Let’s not think of it as a tournament; let’s make it a fun adventure. I was six back starting the day and shot 68. On that golf course, you don’t think that you’re going to catch the leader at six back, but somehow I did. I wasn’t thinking about the lead or anything until those last two holes. It was just all of that coming together – not worrying about golf, not worrying about how you’re doing, not worrying about my dad and my mom. Just trying to have a better attitude and not worry about golf. It somehow all came together there. It made my caddie look right; I needed to have more fun.
18. PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Enjoy this special edition Top Photos of the Week from around the world in golf