Inbee Park (South Korea) has been ranked the #1 player in women’s professional golf for the past 13 weeks. Suzann Pettersen (Norway) has been ranked among the top 10 women’s professional golfers for the past 318 weeks, longer than any other pro golfer currently on tour. South Korean golfers currently hold 50% of the top-10 ranks in women’s professional golf. How do I know these facts? The Rolex Rankings, of course. What do the rankings tell us about who’s the better golfer? Now that’s another matter entirely.
Who or what determines who’s eligible to play in the US Women’s Open, or the RICOH British Women’s Open? The Rolex Ranking, of course, which also figure into the Solheim Cup pick equation for Team USA and Team Europe.
How many of us actually understand the intricacies of the Rolex Rankings? Not many, I’d bet. Sure, those of us who follow women’s pro golf know that Inbee Park is currently the #1 professional woman golfer in the world and that she edged Stacy Lewis (USA) out of the top slot several tournaments ago.
If we were pushed, we’d probably speculate that the Rolex Rankings are derived from a byzantine equation that includes where players place in pro golf tournaments and how many tournaments they play. So far, we’d be right.
And if we thought about that equation for a minute or two, we’d probably assume that placing 10th in the US Women’s Open is probably worth more points than placing 10th in the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic. We’d be right again, but to take it any further than this we’d probably need an advanced degree in something having to do with numbers.
The need to craft a comprehensive global ranking system was first discussed in 2004 at the World Congress of Women’s Golf. Two years of discussion, negotiation, and planning ensued. With the agreement of 5 core women’s professional golf associations, the Rolex Rankings made its debut in women’s professional golf on February 21, 2006.
That first year, Annika Sorenstam held the top slot in the rankings of 539 golfers, followed by:
Paula Creamer, 9.65 (currently #14)
Michelle Wie, 9.24 (currently #84)
Yuri Fudoh, 7.37
Cristie Kerr, 6.94 (currently #12)
Ai Miyazato, 6.58 (currently #11)
Lorena Ochoa, 6.10
Jeong Jang, 4.91
Hee-Won Han, 4.49 (currently #113)
Juli Inkster, 4.11 (currently #144)
Nine years later, 60% of those top-10 women’s golfers remain active contenders in professional tour events.
The Rolex ranking system is sanctioned by the LPGA, the Ladies European Tour (LET), LPGA-Japan, Korea-LPGA, Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG), and the Ladies Golf Union, which administers the Ricoh British Women’s Open. All official events in the 5 pro tours are included in the ranking equation, though some events are worth more points than others. The ranking system is fairly complex, and includes 2 years’ tournament placements for all players, more heavily weighting more recent events. The rankings are updated weekly.
A look at past Rolex Rankings paints an intriguing portrait of the rivalry between Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis. They’ve been competing for the top slot in the Rolex Rankings for over a year, and both have been steadily strengthening their game and climbing up the rankings for several years, more or less side-by-side. In 2009, for example, Park was ranked 42nd and Lewis 47th by Rolex. Clearly, this rivalry has a history that will be played out this coming weekend at the Manulife Financial LPGA Classic in Waterloo, Ontario and then again at St. Andrews, at the RICOH British Women’s Open, August 1-4.
But Park and Lewis aren’t alone up there at the top of the rankings. Suzann Petterson and Na Yeon Choi (South Korea) are right behind them, ready to make their move, and Karrie Webb (Australia) and IK Kim (South Korea) have both edged upward from previous weeks Rolex ranks.
Gearing up for the British Women’s Open, the South Koreans clearly have an edge, with players in 5 of the top-10 Rolex slots and 35 players in the top 100 on the list.
But this is golf and the contest at St. Andrews will involve more than technical skill. Catriona Matthew (Scotland) won the 2009 British Women’s Open 11 weeks after the birth of her 2nd child and has a game that’s in great shape right now. Her intentions are clear: ”As a proud Scot there is no place I would rather win than at the Old Course playing in front of my home fans and I will be doing everything I can to ensure I am ready for the week.” St. Andrews could come down to a contest between golf’s Serene Goddess and the Determined Scot contender.
Inbee Park might agree that it’s anything but lonely at the top of the Rolex Rankings! At the moment, it’s downright crowded up there!