Trying To Figure Out The World Golf Rankings Formula

Albert Einstein
By Matt Cohen

I was having a look at the Official World Golf Rankings recently. Nothing really surprised me. Rory McIlroy was first, followed by Henrik Stenson, Bubba Watson, Jason Day and Adam Scott. Not a bad starting five.

Then I started looking at the right hand side, where they show average points, total points, points lost and points gained. It basically read like a whole bunch of numbers that went over my head. So I got curious. I went to the formula page to try and grasp what some of those numbers really mean, and how the rankings actually get computed.

Math This ranking system is a bit – difficult

Simply put, the golfer’s world ranking is obtained by dividing their points total by the number of events they have played, which gives their average. Players are then ranked; a higher average yields a higher rank. Currently, a ranking in the world top 50 grants automatic entry to all the majors and World Golf Championships.

The first stage in the calculation is the ranking of each event. For most events the ranking depends on the current world rankings of the participating golfers and the participation of the leading golfers from the “home tour”.

A deeper dive into the numbers led me to discover a whole lot more. Points are accumulated over a two year “rolling” period. Strength of the field is a factor, and different events have minimum points levels. World Golf Championships and Major Championships are weighed differently. And it’s not just the PGA Tour and the European Tour tournaments. Eligible tours include: PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia, Sunshine Tour, Asian Tour,, European Challenge Tour, PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour China, PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, One Asia, Korean Golf Tour and Asian Development Tour.

I’m not going to copy and paste every single chart and every single formula that goes into the computation of the World Golf Rankings. If you’re really curious, check out how the system works here and try and figure it out for yourself.

Here’s the point – figuring out the formula and how the rankings work can be pretty confusing if you’re a common folk like me. They make the old college football BCS rankings look like your basic 1-2-3’s. Can someone please send me a copy of “The Idiots Guide To The World Golf Rankings?” If I’m seriously the only person on God’s green earth that can’t figure out this formula, I’ll go stand in the corner with a dunce hat on and you can all throw things at me. But I doubt I’m alone.

In the old days, one had to only look at the PGA Tour money list to discern who the best golfer in the world was. That was back in the 1970’s, when Jack and Gary and Tom among others were dominating the sport. Then golf became a truly international game. Seve Ballesteros, Greg Norman, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo among others made it impossible to ignore the need for a worldwide ranking system. By 1986, the World Golf Rankings were born. You can read more on how the system has evolved here.

Could there be an easier way to compute the rankings? Perhaps. Something does seem off when the Masters has a lower world rating value than the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the WCG-Cadillac Championship. But I’m not the one to come up with a new system. Using the college football analogy from earlier, the Associated Press runs a poll to calculate the sport’s top 25. The AP runs a poll for most college sports actually. But something so basic as that wouldn’t work in golf, which is a truly international game that has hundreds of players competing in multiple tournaments at different times all over the world.

Maybe the problem is that the golf media and the television broadcasts don’t do a good enough job explaining how the rankings work, or defining their significance. If you’re a college football fan, these rankings are your life. If the importance of the rankings was underlined better, then maybe more of us would understand them.

So after much frustration, I’ve come to the following conclusion. My annoyance lies not with the rankings themselves, but at my inability to fully grasp the way in which they’re calculated. But you know what – who cares? Do they even matter to begin with? After all, I don’t need a number to tell me that Rory McIlroy is the best golfer in the world, or that Tiger Woods (ranked 66) is playing poorly. I have my two eyes to tell me that. Maybe I’ll never figure out why Adam Scott, who hasn’t played an event since November’s HSBC Champions is still ranked 5th in the world. It really doesn’t matter to me.

Tiger once said, “winning takes care of everything.” And that’s true. The golfer who shoots the lowest score wins, and the golfer who shoots the lowest score a lot, wins a lot. At least I’ve figured that out.

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