Memo to Jon Rahm: A New Idea for The World Rankings

Jon Rahm, 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Rahm, 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions,Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Ranking golfers has been at the top of golf discussions in the last 12 months, especially since a few golfers from various tours defected to LIV golf and are losing their world ranking points.  LIV players’ rankings have been falling faster than the anvil that Wile E. Coyote tries to drop on the Road Runner.

However, it’s not just the LIV golfers that have issues with rankings. The rankings have been hotly debated because they allow entry into several major championships and factor in entry to other tournaments. Many are not happy about the way the current ranking system is done.

Jon Rahm expressed his displeasure about winning three recent tournaments and staying in the same place in the official rankings.  He called the system “laughable.”

One problem with the current rankings is that they lag reality.   That is why Rahm, while brilliant lately, has a ranking that suffers from what he did or didn’t do as far back as two years ago because the current world golf rankings use a two-year time frame.

Two years is far too long to identify a golfer’s current performance level.  Rankings should not cover more than one year.  It would be better if the time was six months, but half a year ignores the realities of year-long schedules on the various tours. So that’s the first change that should be made.

There are other issues with the current world rankings, too. There have always been intangibles baked in with the awarding of total points on different tours, so no one is really happy, other than the players at the top.

Ideally, the system to give golfers a ranking would focus on scoring, which is the method everyone in golf uses to determine the winner. Why use anything else?

To fix these problems, a few things need to be done. First, everyone needs to get on board with how long a time period the rankings should cover.

When they originally started, the world golf rankings were calculated over three years. That was a serious time bias, which they eventually reduced to two years. Does anybody really think using a two-year time span is the way to go?

We also need a method that removes the player bias, tournament bias, time bias, Tour bias (any Tour), and administrative bias, all of which result in computational bias. That’s why Jon Rahm said it’s laughable. We need something that pinpoints performance. Period.  No matter what tour a player belongs to.

Ideally, the system to give golfers a ranking would focus on scoring, which is the method everyone in golf uses to determine the winner. Why use anything else?

For every player in every tournament, I’m going to suggest a new system that combines two things to determine a ranking:  actual scores shot by players and the rating of the course played.

Course ratings may have some biases, but they are done by the USGA in the US.  The USGA could easily rate any course in Mexico used for professional events including the PGA Tour; because Mexico is the only other country that follows USGA rules.

The rest of the world is governed by the R&A. That organization could do ratings for courses around the world where professional tournaments are played.  The important thing about course ratings is they are not done by the tours, so it removes the willingness of friends to make the tour of a friend a little more important by throwing them a few extra points. And who decides that, anyway?  The great and powerful Oz?

The course rating is easy to find. It’s typically shown on scorecards, along with par and slope.  The USGA also has a database of course ratings, so they are not secret.

The ratings from the back tees are done based on what an amateur male scratch player would shoot. Even though pros are better than that, it’s a number to start with.  Nearly all the courses in the US at least have a rating.  We just need a number that describes the difficulty of the course with everybody using the same system.

The rating is a number agreed to by the course rating committee, not by a tour, not by professional golfers.  The Southern California Golf Association, for instance, uses 26 evaluations for each set of tees on each hole when they do ratings.  They say they use GPS these days, which they believe simplifies the process considerably.

Now, onto the idea for the new system of golf rankings for professional golfers.

The method to determine the new rankings is going to be to add the scores of each round minus the amount rating is over for that course. This new system will work for every tournament played, every round played, all season long, on all recognized tours.  It will produce a number that represents each golfer’s average score, which will be the basis for his or her ranking.

There will be no “field adjusted” or “weather adjusted” scores. Nobody cares what the field shot. Nobody cares if it rained sideways half of the day.  That’s golf. That’s the luck part of the game, just like a good or bad bounce.

The reason to use the rating number is to attempt to equalize the difference in courses played without penalizing players.  Some courses are just easier than others, even though the various tours try to make them tough to play.

One course might have a rating of 77.  Another course might have a rating of 74. That tells you immediately that the course ranked 77 is probably three strokes harder than the one with the 74.

Here’s how the new ranking system would work.

Let’s look at Riviera CC in Pacific Palisades, California. From the back tees, it is rated 76.3.  However, par at Riviera is 71. It’s a difference of 5.3 strokes. The 5.3  strokes is the amount that the USGA course rating committee says a scratch amateur is over par at Riviera CC.

Official World Golf Ranking, OWGR, Jon Rahm, USGA, R&A
Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, The Genesis Invitational, Riviera Country Club, (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) /

The course rating for TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course from the TPC tees is 76.8.  Par is 72. That’s a difference of 4.8 strokes. The 4.8 is the amount that the USGA course raters determined a scratch male amateur is over par for TPC Sawgrass.

Official World Golf Ranking, OWGR, Jon Rahm, USGA, R&A
Justin Thomas, THE PLAYERS, TPC Sawgrass, (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

We use those because both courses have been in play for many years, and everyone who watches televised golf is familiar with them.

Now we get to scoring.

Now, let’s say a player shot 70-69-74-70 = 283 at Riviera CC in the Genesis Invitational.  Riviera’s course rating of 76.3 is 5.3 strokes over the course scorecard par of 71. The players’ new “ score” number for Riviera would be 283 minus 21.2, which is four times 5.3, = 261.8

Let’s say a player shot 68-69-71-70 = 278 at TPC Sawgrass, here’s how his rating would be computed for that tournament.  TPC Sawgrass’ rating is 76.8. So that means we’d start with his actual score, 278, and subtract the course rating from each day’s score.

The difference between the rating and par is 4.8, and four times that number is 19.2. That gives the player a new “score” of 258.8.

To start to determine a player’s ranking number, we’d take all his rounds for the year, less the difference between par and the course ratings, and add them together.

Then to get the player’s ranking, we’d divide all the scores in a year by the number of rounds played.

To demonstrate, we use our same two courses and sets of scores as an example. To get the player’s rating, we’d add 258.8  (TPC Sawgrass score minus rating adjustment for TPC Sawgrass) plus 261.8 (Riviera score minus rating adjustment for Riviera).  That total is 520.6.

Then we divide 520.6 by 8 for the rounds played, four at TPC Sawgrass and four at Riviera.  That gives us 65.075.  That’s the way the player’s ranking number could be determined.  This process would be followed for a year’s worth of tournaments, not these two weeks plucked out of the schedule.

Making a ranking based on actual scoring makes sense. And a ranking of 65 or 66 or 67 is reasonable because a tour player might easily shoot a 65 on a good course even if par is 72.

Tours could decide whether to use a year-long rolling system or to start at the beginning of each season and throw away points from the previous year or season.

So, for the PGA Tour, scores beginning with the Fortinet tournament could be the beginning of 2023.  In 2024, ranking tournaments would start in January of 2024.

However, if all tours want to compare their players, then all tours need to agree on a start and stop date or agree on a rolling time period, a year, for instance.

(A rolling time period would mean that next January when the Sentry Tournament of Champions is played, every player’s values for the 2023 Sentry is dropped.)

Every player playing a course rated by the USGA or R&A; would get a number for his rounds, whether he made the cut or not. Obviously, players who missed the cut would have higher scores for those missed cut weeks, and that would bump their overall rating higher.

Using this system, every player would have a ranking number based on what he shot and the course rating, which is sensible.  Skip the strength of field, the wind factors, the morning versus afternoon draw, adjusted scoring average (whatever that really is).

Nobody counts that stuff when it comes time to hand out a trophy.  What they count is the score so that’s what should be counted for a ranking system.

This new system is fair because it’s based on what a golfer shot.  It’s fair because, on a specific tour, everybody plays the same courses.

The only unfairness might be the reliance on the USGA or R&A representatives for creating the course rating. But because they have zero to do with the scores that are shot, they cannot bias the outcome, except in their championships, and they aren’t going to do that.

It is vastly better than someone arbitrarily determining the so-called “strength of field,” which is based on the rankings of the people in a tournament.  That measure is nuts. How do you give that a number?

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This new, easy-to-understand ranking takes all the bias and whispers in the dark of night out of the rankings and makes them subject to the score a golfer is capable of shooting at any tournament anywhere in the world.

It’s the score and the degree of difficulty of the course that count.  That’s something all golfers understand and all fans understand it, too.