EDITOR'S NOTE: For the next few weeks of the holiday break, Rotoworld Golf staffers will present one thing that they'd change, support or discourage in the world of golf. Senior editor Rob Bolton leads off our five-part series.
The Official World Golf Ranking has taken heat for inherently protecting golfers who don't play. Guys sitting out events to preserve positioning at critical times exposes this flaw. I have a solution that would not only eliminate this, but it could encourage golfers to play more, or at least take less time off. It's buried a bit here, so stick with me. It needs proper setup.
As a numbers guy, I was bemused by the "news" and its timing in early November that Dustin Johnson had climbed in the OWGR despite not competing since missing the cut at the RBC Canadian Open in late July. The CIMB Classic had just concluded and DJ sat 15th, up one slot since he last pegged it in an event contributing to the OWGR.
Followers of golf that don't understand how the OWGR works see only the fact that Johnson, who is currently sidelined for whatever reason you want to believe, managed to rise in absentia. In fact, he fell to 17th for a total of eight weeks since stepping away. But the jump that garnered attention wasn't the first or even the second time he gained ground in the interim. And not only was it the third occurrence, but his OWGR average has risen eight times versus its measurement the previous week. I explain why below.
Surely you also noticed that Ted Potter, Jr. -- also out since the RBC Canadian Open after needing surgery to repair a broken right ankle -- rose twice during the same period. This included a jump of four slots to 316th five weeks after he split. Alas, the lefty doesn't move the needle, but he's Exhibit B of an endless stream of examples.
So goes the Official World Golf Ranking. If I have a pet peeve, it's that the components that lead to a golfer's world ranking are often omitted from how an opinion is formed. The number of starts (or lack thereof) is just one variable. A basic education on the formula helps explain everything, and it's really no more challenging a concept to understand than how you balance your checkbook.
Other factors to remember:
• Up to 104 weeks of a rolling total of points gained are averaged with an emphasis on recent play. All results of the last 13 weeks receive full value. The value of points gained for all results in the 91 weeks prior to the last 13 is diminished by 1/91 of one point (or 0.0109) for each week separated from the most recent 13-week period.
• A golfer's OWGR average is the result of dividing his total points gained by his divisor (tournaments played), which is no higher than 52 and no lower than 40. If a golfer played more than 52 times during the last 104 weeks, only the results of his most recent 52 starts are tabulated.
• Relative motion of others.
When Johnson's MC at the Canadian Open was plugged in, he ranked 16th with 245.844 total points and a divisor of 51 for an average of 4.8205. Through action around the globe on Nov. 23, he's 18th with 178.34 points and a divisor of 43 for an average of 4.1475.
It's counterintuitive to conceptualize progress in a negative sense, but it usually applies when analyzing long-range segments of the OWGR. Johnson was benefited by sitting just one off the maximum divisor when his sabbatical began. Golfers with lots of points and lots of starts are more likely to retain position and even gain ground at times à la DJ thrice. As his total points gained waned fractionally, his divisor was dropping as a faster clip. In 17 weeks, he shed eight off the divisor, which correlates with his average going up the aforementioned eight times. It's simple math. Divide a slightly lower total points gained by a comparatively much lower divisor and the average will increase every time.
Johnson will start to feel the crunch of the numbers when his divisor bottoms out at 40, if it even happens. Golf Digest's Tim Rosaforte reported on Nov. 17 that DJ is eyeing a return at the Farmers Insurance Open on Feb. 5-8.
I like the OWGR and its role in filling fields in the biggest events. It needs a two-year arc to assign value so that golfers can plan ahead in today's global game and with crossover schedules abroad. Meanwhile, as the media and fans bird-dog the No. 1 position, my eyes are always on the bubble around No. 50. Much like it's harder to crack the top 125 in FedExCup points on the PGA TOUR than it is retaining that position, elbowing into the top 50 in the OWGR is more of a challenge than it is parking it there for the long-term.
However, there is one tweak that I'd implement to prevent situations like Johnson's from not only fooling some media (and, therefore, the uneducated masses), but allowing active golfers to have a fairer opportunity to capitalize on his silence. It's an idea that would apply to all golfers and allow fans to digest a more logical measurement.
DECREE: Freeze a golfer's divisor until his next start. The rolling formula for points gained would remain untouched, as would the provisions for maximum and minimum divisors in the macro sense.
Applying this to DJ today, instead of using his current divisor of 43 against 178.34 points, he'd continue to be charged with a divisor of 51 until he resumes competing. A divisor of 51 would give him an OWGR average of 3.4969, which would slot him 25th overall without the possibility of rising in the ranks. While it would have zero impact as it relates to those near him in the ranking (at least right now), that value better passes the smell test among observers. It also serves as a motivational trigger to get back inside the ropes sooner than later.