Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lee Westwood, World #1—Or Not?

Climbing to #1 On The Backs Of The Lowly
You know, Lee Westwood is a hell of a golfer, but his two-tournament expedition to Asia last month—where his two victories included one over a roster replete with no-names who wouldn’t cut it on the mini-tours here in the States—was cherry-picking, pure and simple. That win, in the Indonesian Masters, punted him past Martin Kaymer and back up to the #1 spot in the World Golf Rankings.

While Westwood was taking candy from babies on the Asian tour, the then-World #1 Martin Kaymer was taking a week off, and World #3, Luke Donald—who stood to vault into the #1 spot with a victory that week (and came that close!)—was teeing it up with the big boys Stateside at the Heritage Classic. Lee Westwood has whined to the media, on more than one occasion, that he really, really does deserve the #1 ranking, no matter what people say—but when he attains it by dusting off a field composed mostly of  no-name players who inhabit the lower strata of professional golf, he deserves the criticism. Like the college football establishment said to LaVell Edwards, coach of the national Champion BYU Cougars in 1984, when he complained that he coached a team to a national championship and still couldn’t get any respect: “Play a tougher schedule!” During Week 17 of the season Westwood was playing against a field which contained only five players (besides himself) who were inside the inside the Top 250 in the world, and only 1 inside the top 100; Donald was up against a roster which included 7 of the Top 50, 21 of the Top 100, and 50 of the Top 250 players in the world. I ask you—who is playing a tougher schedule?

And not only is Westwood cherry-picking in a glorified mini-tour event in the Third World while pocketing a $500,000 appearance fee (2/3 the value of the purse for the event!), his appearance there elevated the world ranking points available for this backwater event, artificially skewing the OWGR points upward for a bunch of no-name Asian Tour players who ended up riding in his wake (talk about a rising tide lifting all boats!). John Feinstein wrote in a Golf Channel.com article posted 4-26-2011:

“…the fact that the number of world rankings points available in an event goes up based on the number of highly-ranked players entered skews the entire process.
Westwood’s presence in Indonesia almost doubled the amount of rankings points available to him and to the rest of the field. It allowed him to beat a field that may [emphasis mine…] have been as good as a Nationwide Tour field and regain the No. 1 ranking. He got a bonus when he found himself playing against a bunch of guys who were [more] likely to ask for his autograph off the golf course [than] beat him on the golf course.”*

This isn’t always the case, but I agree 100% with Feinstein on that one. Call me cynical, but I’d bet a round of golf (twilight rate, at my local muni…) that his schedule is very carefully planned by his “management team” to maximize potential OWGR point gains—and then there are always those 6-digit appearance fees… 

No Major, No #1
There has also been a lot of talk about the fact that the current World #1 has never won a major. While there is much that is good in the manner in which the OWGR are calculated, taking into account as they do the players’ records over the previous two years, and awarding more points for majors and WGC events, where the fields are stronger than at regular Tour events, it seems to me that a no-major #1 just isn’t right. There should be a “No major championship, no # 1” factor in the calculations, or at the very least a significant increase in the weighting factor for having won a major in the previous two years. Throw something like that into the calcs (and eliminate the skewing effect Feinstein wrote of) and Martin Kaymer—with the 2010 PGA championship title on his record—is the guy, and Westwood can go back to contemplating “Best Player Without A Major” status from the #2 spot, or lower, on the WGR podium.
* (While he got his facts right in those statements, Feinstein goes on to suggest that sports journalists be given input into the rankings—which only goes to show that the athletes aren’t the only ones scrabbling for some glory in the situation. I can’t say that I am at all comfortable with that concept. If his proposal were to be put into effect it would introduce subjectivity and bias into a process which should be based on quantifiable results. Nice try, John–go stamp out another book…

BTW—Am I the only one who notices a resemblance between Jon Feinstein and the Irv Klar character in Dan Jenkins’ novels The Money-Whipped, Steer-Job, Three-Jack Give-Up Artist and Slim and None? Just askin’…)

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