There was an international golf Twitter kerfuffle earlier in the week, with American pros like Kelly Kraft and Grayson Murray alleging bias in the Official World Golf Ranking. The charge was that a number of international players — those on the European, Asian and Japanese tours, among others — had inflated world ranking positions because of the inherent flaws in the system.
Pros like Byeong-hun An and Thomas Pieters defended themselves, as they should’ve, somewhat ridiculing the American players for suggesting they had it easier against weaker competition despite traveling thousands more miles than most PGA Tour players do for week-to-week events.
Let it be clear: There is bias in the Official World Golf Ranking, and it comes in the form of Home Tour rating points.
Every week, the Official World Golf Ranking rates each sanctioned tournament based on its field strength. Each player in the field ranked in the top 200 in the world contributes to that rating, and that’s done on a sliding scale from 45 points for world No. 1, down to 1 point each for every player ranked 101st to 200th in the world. (There are minimum ratings for tournaments on every tour, and certain events, like the majors and flagship events, have elevated minimum ratings, too.) Then, after compiling that rating, the OWGR adds in Home Tour rating points.
Home Tour rating points are a measure of how many players in the field were in the top 30 of the hosting tour’s order of merit in the prior season. It works on a sliding scale, but, if all of those top 30 players are in a field, that can mean an additional 75 points toward an event’s overall rating. These Home Tour rating points can only be applied to the point that they equal 75 percent of the event’s rating points.
Here’s an example. If an event had a rating of 100 without Home Tour rating points, and all of the top 30 played, the total rating would be 175. In real terms, that would be the difference between giving the winner 24 or 34 world-ranking points and overall offering points to 27 or 40 players. That’s a big deal when it adds up over a 104-week ranking period.
Of course, PGA Tour events can benefit from the Home Tour ranking points. However, the success of the tour and the size of their purposes diminish how often the top 30 players in the prior season’s FedEx Cup standings are in a field. It just doesn’t happen every week because the best players can cherry-pick a smaller schedule if they choose.
On the Web.com Tour, it’s worse. Since the Web.com Tour is effectively a transitional tour, the top 30 players from the prior season’s regular money list are extremely unlikely to play in their events the next season, save for the Web.com Tour Finals. After all, the top 25 in money from the prior season are now playing on the PGA Tour, leaving players 26-30 on the money list as potential boosts through Home Tour ranking points.
The same issue can happen on the European Challenge Tour. However, the Sunshine Tour, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, PGA Tour Canada and other tours of that level can benefit substantially more since there are fewer players who move up to better tours through a money list or qualifying.
Look at fields on the Asian Tour, Japan Tour, Australasian PGA Tour and lower-level (often co-sanctioned) European Tour events. A lot of these fields feature the same players. After all, the money is less and the schedules aren’t as deep. That increases the likelihood of a significant boost each week from Home Tour rating points.
For example, the Asian Tour had 33 official money events on their schedule last year. They co-sanction the majors, WGCs and a number of PGA Tour and European Tour events, leaving their number of purely Asian Tour events around 20. Most of their top players on the Order of Merit — not ones with joint membership in other tours — complete 15-19 times per year.
Bias is the word I attach to that. However, there is relevancy in being able to beat the best players on a certain tour, and that shouldn’t be discarded. It’s difficult for events on lesser tours to attract top-200 players to their fields for reasons (read: money and convenience) we’ve already discussed. So, the OWGR threw a bone to these tours with Home Tour rating points, implying additional value on top players on a certain tour.
Oddly enough, that’s also kind of insulting to the rest of a field on a lesser tour. More than half of a field might not actually count toward the Official World Golf Ranking rating of a tournament. As far as the OWGR formula is concerned, they may as well not be there, and if they are beaten, so what. That’s partially a function of how difficult it is under the current algorithm to truly distinguish players outside the top 200 in the world. Wins on any A- and B-tier tours can catapult a player up hundreds of spots overnight, helping them preserve a better ranking for months at a time in a rolling two-year cycle. Does winning once make the 485th player in the world now the 192nd? Maybe, maybe not, but that’s how the ranking can work.
The fix is pretty clear, too. The Official World Golf Ranking tournament-ranking formula should consider more players toward an event’s strength. Instead of counting just the top 200 players in the world toward an event, the OWGR formula should take a page from the women’s Rolex Rankings and go as deep as 400th in the world. Go further, and rank down to 500th.
The Rolex Rankings offer 0.75 tournament-ranking points for each player from 201st-300th, then 0.5 points for 301st-400th, which is a boon for events in Japan and South Korea, allowing those players to increase in the ranking. The Rolex Rankings still offer Home Tour rating points, which they shouldn’t, but the depth of rating individual players helps overcome that bias.
Increasing the number of players that count toward an event’s OWGR rating, while also limiting or altogether ending Home Tour rating points, would be a nod to the greater depth in pro golf, the realities of transitional and developmental tours and eliminate the view of bias perceived to be so great that it’s holding back players who aren’t really held back by it.