Should a player have to win a major to be world no.1?

Trying to crack the Official World Golf Rankings is like trying to understand the NFL’s new playoff overtime rules, the FedEx Cup, Federal tax codes or how Nickelback keeps selling albums. In other words, it is nearly impossible.

Basically, you shouldn’t try to figure the rankings out or ask questions about them, because doing so will only make your head spin. Whether it is my insatiable need to figure out these arbitrary rankings or pure masochism, there are a few questions I want to pose about the ranking system in place for golf.

It is important to note that the OWGR is a very important system; championships like the U.S. Open and the Open Championship use these rankings to help determine exemptions to the most prestigious events in the world. Because of this fact, it is important that they be examined and critiqued.

Without explicating to the level of a Charles Dickens novel, I first want to explain exactly — or inexactly — how the OWGR system works. The points are awarded at every officially sanctioned event worldwide. Whether it is the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Master’s or the Chevron World Challenge, OWGR points are awarded for the events. More points are available at events with stronger fields; so the PGA Championship is worth many more points than the Humana Challenge.

So far it sounds pretty simple right? Where it gets confusing is the timing of the rankings. World ranking points count for the previous two years. So if player A wins the Master’s in 2012, those OWGR points will count on his record for two years. This is why Tiger Woods’ rankings were able to hold in the top 10 until the middle of last year. He was still holding on to some tournament wins and high finishes in the latter part of the 2009 season. Once the two-year period had passed and those victories rolled off, his OWGR plummeted to above 50.

Where the rankings really get confusing is when you watch players move up and down the list for seemingly innocuous finishes in meaningless events. For example, Woods moved his aforementioned 50-plus world ranking into the low 20s with a win at the Chevron World Challenge, an event with a limited field and no cut. Yes there were 11 of the top 25 players in the world at Sherwood Country Club, but there is no denying that the fewer the participants, the easier it is to win. In an even more perplexing twist, the PGA Tour’s season opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii carried less OWGR points than the Chevron World Challenge. Simple logic would say that this makes no sense, as the Tournament of Champions is made up of a field of many players who have all played well in the previous 12 months.

Let’s take a look at the current OWGR:

  1. Luke Donald
  2. Lee Westwood
  3. Rory McIlroy
  4. Martin Kaymer
  5. Steve Stricker
  6. Webb Simpson
  7. Adam Scott
  8. Charl Schwartzel
  9. Dustin Johnson
  10. Jason Day

Other than the alarming fact that there is no American on the list until spot no.5, one thing should jump out at you: There are not many major winners on that list. In fact, only three of the top 10 players have won a major, and the highest-ranked player to win a major is McIlroy in the third spot. Of the three major winners on the list (McIlroy, Kaymer and Schwartzel), they have each only won one major. To me this is a problem and an issue that the OWGR needs to address. The major golf tournaments need to carry even more weight than the average tour event.

Luke Donald, while a fantastic player, has worked his way to the top of the OWGR because he has been freakishly consistent while racking up top 10 finishes world wide. But in my opinion, victories should be much more heavily weighted, especially in majors. Donald is easily talented enough to be the no.1 player in the world, but he hasn’t yet proved it with his play on the world’s biggest stage. The same is true for Westwood. In my opinion, McIlroy should be ranked ahead of these two on the list for the show he put on in the 2011 U.S. Open.

It can be argued that the reason the rankings are so up for grabs right now is because the parity is very high and there is no dominant player. While there is some truth to this, I still believe a player needs to have a major under his belt to be considered as the world no.1.

Tennis has a similar issue right now with Caroline Wozniacki, who is the no.1 player in the world but has never won a major tennis tournament. Speaking with some of my friends who follow tennis (one of which who played tennis at the University of Georgia), they feel the no.1 ranking is unjustified.

Majors are supposed to be the peak of the golf season for its greatest players. As the OWGR stands now, it ranks like the BCS, and that is not a compliment. The Green Bay Packers would be the current world no.1 if there was an Official NFL World Ranking. But they lost in the playoffs and will not finish the season “ranked” no.1 in real life. The majors should act as those “playoffs” for golf; no.1 ranked players need to have majors under their belt to be considered completely legitimate.

The OWGR system needs to be tweaked to allow for more points for major championships. I would also argue that there should be some sort of human element to the rankings, because I firmly believe an “AP” poll of sorts would have McIlroy firmly in first position in the rankings.

One thing is for certain: for anyone to fully understand how the rankings work, they would need to hire a legal dream team. And even then, its description reads more like a congressional resolution than it does an explanation of a golf ranking system. Golf organizations worldwide will soon need a lawyer on retainer just to make sense of one of the most convoluted ranking systems on earth.


About alexurbansports

My name is Alex Urban and I am a graduate student at the University of Georgia in Public Relations. I have a passion for sports, especially golf. I have an extensive communication background, and currently write for and the Red and Black paper at UGA.
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3 Responses to Should a player have to win a major to be world no.1?

  1. Phil Urban says:

    Great line about Nickelback. Interesting idea – like adding “x” points to the four major results. A win at the Chevron is like a 10th at Augusta. Or 20th…

  2. OK, I know nothing about golf but I do think a player should have to win something big in order to be #1.

    Not that you asked, but I also think college football should have a playoff. Heh.

    • Without question there should be a college football playoff.

      The golf one is just such a strange system, because it is based on two-year performance. But those 4 majors are easily the most sought after tournaments of the year and wins there should be weighted even more than they are now.

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