ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Brooks Koepka moved back into the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from his couch on Monday, and depending on a variety of scenarios this week at the Dunlop Phoenix event in Japan where the three-time major champion is playing, he could be overtaken by Justin Rose ... who is spending this week on his couch.
The world rankings are golf’s version of the College Football Playoffs – confusing at times, arbitrary at others and even polarizing. But it’s not Koepka and Rose’s game of musical chairs atop the list that’s most compelling.
The frontmen for the world’s two most high-profile tours also appear to be taking a long look at the math and madness of the rankings, at least if current comments are any indication.
Two weeks ago at the Turkish Airlines Open, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley was asked about his circuit’s relationship with Rolex, which is the title sponsor of the tour’s eight Rolex Series events. That Pelley’s response drifted into an examination of the OWGR was telling.
“I look at fields completely different and I don’t evaluate the fields strictly on world ranking points,” Pelley said. “Take the British Masters, for example. Who had a stronger field, CIMB [Classic] or the British Masters?”
According to the Official World Golf Ranking, it wasn’t much of a competition, with the Tour winner in Malaysia receiving 48 points with a strength of field of 289. The British Masters winner received 38 points with a strength of field of 206.
But Pelley’s assessment went well beyond the math.
“If you look at it in terms of the legend’s category they had Ernie Els. We had four former world No. 1’s. Take Justin Rose out, we had Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer,” Pelley said. “From the consumers perspective and from the partner’s perspective what’s a better field? What’s going to resonate more with consumers?”
From Pelley’s vantage point the world rankings only tell part of the story, which is understandable considering that the European Tour had a stronger field than that week’s PGA Tour event just seven times in 2018.
That the U.S. tour has deeper fields on a more consistent basis is no surprise, but what is likely more concerning for Pelley is that the PGA Tour continues to expand the gap between the two circuits.
In fact, this year’s Turkish Airlines Open, which is one of Europe’s three finals events, dropped behind the corresponding Tour event this year according to the ranking.
“Since 2015 the U.S. players have come up in the world ranking and the European Tour players have gone down, that’s a fact,” Pelley said.
The PGA Tour’s advantage in the ranking is unrivaled but it appears Pelley’s counterpart in the United States is just as interested in the inner workings of the rankings.
In September at the Tour Championship, officials indicated that the rankings would go through an independent review, and last week in an exclusive interview with GolfChannel.com, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained the goal of that review.
“The world ranking system has operated the same way for a long period of time. As a group we are going through an exercise where whether then us assessing our own system let’s get some outside counsel and outside perspective on whether the world golf ranking system is meeting its intention,” Monahan said. “I’d say it’s standard, but we have not gone through that exercise as long as I’ve been there, which is something that any business would do.”
Monahan said the review was “ongoing” and that there was no time frame for any potential tweaks, but you don’t have to dig too deep to find potential problems from the Tour’s perspective.
Included among the seven European Tour events that had stronger fields in 2018 – a comparison that doesn’t include the majors or World Golf Championship events that are co-sanctioned by both tours – was the BMW PGA Championship, which is the continent’s flagship event. The winner at the BMW PGA received 64 points. The winner at that week’s event on the PGA Tour (Fort Worth Invitational) received 56 points despite the event actually having a higher strength of field (412) than that in England (283).
At issue is the minimum built into the ranking that mandates the number of points awarded at flagship events, which is a threshold that all six “leading” tours have, and an example of what the independent review will likely be studying.
The Official World Golf Ranking isn’t perfect and, like the College Football Playoffs it probably never will be, but with so much now riding on a player’s ranking – from access into top events to contract bonuses – it’s time to take a deep dive into the complicated arithmetic. It’s also clear that not everyone is going to like the outcome.