2005: Newsmakers - Olsen: Rankings don’t add up
This will only hurt for a moment. Like a flu shot or a bite of haggis.
The Byzantine nature of the Official World Golf Ranking is one of life’s curious complexities. A handful of brainy folks get it, and the rest of the herd nervously nods its approval and hopes there won’t be a quiz.
There are times, however, when convoluted reality becomes costly. So costly, in fact, that a handful of people without degrees from MIT have taken interest.
Dan Olsen never intended to become the Norma Rae of the Nationwide Tour. He’s not a mathematician. He’s a locker room philosopher with a quick, cutting wit and one of the purest swings in the game. He’s also angrier than hell.
“It’s a gross injustice what the World Ranking system does to the Nationwide Tour,” Olsen says. “It’s blatant, it’s gross and everybody knows about it but nobody does anything.”
To understand Olsen’s concerns requires a crash course in World Ranking minutia.
Players earn points depending on where they finish in each event and the strength of that tournament’s field. Points are doubled then devalued by 25 percent every 13 weeks over a two-year period. A player’s ranking is based on his points divided by the number of events he’s played over the last two years.
Olsen’s problem with the system is twofold. First, the winner of the Nationwide’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open earlier this year, for instance, earned a meager three points, and this week’s PGA Championship winner will pocket 50 points. Secondly, when dividing up ranking points, tournaments count the same whether they’re played in Broussard, La., or at Baltusrol in New Jersey.
Add 15 to 20 Nationwide Tour events to a player’s record and you end up with a World Ranking well south of the Mendoza line.
“As you play better on the (PGA) Tour, the (Nationwide) points you carried with you – because they are lower – start to drag you down,” says Nationwide Tour chief of operations Bill Calfee.
The Titanic didn’t get dragged down like that.
This year’s 20 Nationwide grads have played a combined six majors so far in 2005, getting into those events primarily through qualifying. Breaking into the top 50 in the World Ranking – which assures spots in the four majors – is too difficult with a Nationwide noose.
Last month, the World Ranking board did little to improve the inequity of the system by increasing the points awarded to Nationwide Tour champions from three to seven beginning next year.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Calfee says. “But we still have a ways to go.”
At the heart of the issue is where the Nationwide Tour ranks among the world circuits.
Currently, the Nationwide Tour ranks behind the PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Japan Golf Tour according to the World Ranking system. The Asian Tour, which has purses that are a fraction of that on the Nationwide Tour, receives the same number points as the Nationwide Tour.
According to the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index – which ranks players only on who they beat, not which tournaments they’ve played – the Nationwide Tour is easily the third-strongest circuit on the planet.
“No question in my mind we’re the second- or third-best tour in the world,” Calfee says.
To support his argument, Calfee points to Jason Gore, the prince of Pinehurst who was ranked 818th in the World Ranking when he teed off in Sunday’s final group at the U.S. Open.
“Jason Gore was ranked what, 800th in the World Ranking? Give me a break,” Calfee says.
Play better. That’s the most common lament when it comes to access on the PGA Tour. For Nationwide Tour grads, a better solution is not to play. When he locked up his card in 2003, Joe Ogilvie sat out four of the last five events to protect his ranking, and Olsen said he’d do the same if he’s assured a Tour card.
“Chris Couch (No. 2 on the money list), who already has got his (2006) card, needs to call the Nationwide CEO and say, ‘It’s not wise for me to play your tour because of the way it buries me in the World Ranking,’ ” Olsen says. “You think Nationwide wants to lose him?”
Of course, that would require Couch to explain the intricacies of the World Ranking system. And nobody wants that.