Ben Coley golf column on world rankings and more

In his latest column, Ben Coley bemoans two narrow-minded PGA Tour players lacking in ambition.

When they write the book on Modern Journalism & Column Writing, they will conclude with a section relating to the latter and how to always have something to say, even when you have nothing to say.

In that section, it will state, ‘Do not despair, there is always Twitter’ and while it’s very much the last place to go scraping the bottom of the barrel, today I am moved to.

Chiefly, that’s because I don’t really know what to say about Dustin Johnson. What is there to say? He’s playing sensationally. I find it hard to listen to certain pundits state that his mind is his greatest asset when those same pundits used to say it was what guaranteed he would never win a major, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve little to complain about when it comes to the Match Play, not even the format. I’d be tempted to cut the numbers a little as seven matches in five days does seem a little much, but some of the 33-64-ranked bunch provided great entertainment in Austin and losing them would, in its way, dilute the event.

I like the course, too. Phew. Last week I received a message from Gary Player Design, protesting that I had dared to criticise the venue they created which hosted the Indian Open recently.

I could write an essay on the message I received but perhaps we’ll keep that one for the memoires. Let’s just say I found their argument that a hole-in-one on the fifth proves it is a good hole to be a tad reductive.

And so to Twitter, where some young PGA Tour players disgraced themselves in the latest enlightened attack on the Official World Golf Rankings which, they protest, are flawed in so much as they allow players from outside the PGA Tour to climb quicker than those playing on what’s undeniably the most competitive circuit in golf.

Kelly Kraft was first to fire his scolding hot take: "It’s amazing to me how fast some of the Asian/Euro Tour guys rise in the world golf rankings."

Kraft received a reply from Matt Griffin, a 33-year-old who qualified for the WGC-Mexico Championship thanks to performances in his native Australia, something which evidently irks his US-based peer.

“We look forward to seeing you come to Euro, Asia Japan and prove how easy it is,” wrote Griffin, to which Kraft’s response was “I’d do just fine thanks… you played in the WGC Mexico somehow. How you do in that?”

Griffin replied that he’d earned his spot and played poorly. Such is golf. Kraft didn't deserve a reply. You'd think he'd treat a fellow pro with greater respect.

Grayson Murray, who in his brief time as a golfer people have vaguely heard of has failed to demonstrate any discernible ability to analyse, chimed in with “let’s go play over there and then we will be in every major and WGC event the rest of our lives!” 

Of course you would, Mr Murray.

Kraft’s concern as to how the world rankings work isn’t without standing. The simple fact is that there is no flawless system to order upwards of a thousand players. And, yes, it’s somewhat easier to climb the rankings in Asia – if you win frequently. You don’t get far missing cuts and failing to contend.

But until he’s shown a willingness to travel beyond America, something he states he does not wish to do, his protestations carry zero substance.

What’s more, Kraft should know better than to protest at who gets to play in which tournament. As winner of the US Amateur, the early stages of his professional career depended on invites which came at the expense of other pros, who had perhaps done more to deserve them.

And if he cared to look at the rankings, he’d see that in finishing third at Pebble Beach earlier this year, he earned more points than, say, SSP Chawrasia earned for winning the aforementioned Hero Indian Open. Almost twice as many, in fact.

Murray, meanwhile, has been playing abysmally of late - and for that, you get no world ranking points, wherever you are in the world.

But if we look back to last year, he climbed from an opening 1,746th in the rankings to the brink of the top 150 on the strength of his play on the Tour. Right now he's two places above Padraig Harrington. I wonder under what measure he feels he deserves to be.

As a matter of fact, Murray's win on the Tour earned him 16 ranking points, which is precisely how many Hideto Tanihara earned when beating fellow WGC player Yuta Ikeda to an event on the Japan Tour last year.

Comparing the two isn’t easy, but until Murray ventures to Japan – which I’d wager he’ll never do – and proves that it’s easier to win out there, I’m willing to argue that he would have struggled to match either player, just as he will struggle to get within a thousand miles of giving to golf what Harrington has.

I’m also willing to argue that Kraft wouldn’t have been able to live with Chawrasia in India, but again this is a player who has shown little willingness to travel. When he has, the results have been poor – in fact, he missed the cut in the 2013 Australian PGA. Griffin was 22nd.

The bottom line is that the world rankings are based on a complex numerical system and they will never be perfect.

They are designed to reward performance according to field strength over a period of time, thereby acknowledging standout performers across the world. And, lest we forget, golf takes place beyond the borders of America.

No doubt some players are artificially high and some artificially low in the rankings, but show me a system which proves, demonstrably, which number should be assigned to each player.

Had Kraft won at Pebble Beach, had Murray won rather than missing cuts, both would’ve been in the WGC-Match Play field, perhaps learning a thing or two about class from an international rival who is forced to play in America for the biggest prizes.

It would serve Kraft and Murray well to remember that. As far as golf goes, they are in the land of opportunity, where still three of its four majors take place, and until recently three of its four WGCs. Where they can earn US$10million for winning one event – were either of them good enough to qualify for it.

If a player from Asia or Europe benefits from finding it easier to accrue points outside of the US – and there’s no hard evidence to prove that this is the case – so be it. Kraft would find invites easy to come by if he wants to go chasing easy points. Murray less so, but there’d be something for him somewhere.

In boxing parlance, it's put up or shut up, but if you’ll only play at home and you want to play the big events, it's even simpler. Play better.

Players to watch

A few weeks ago I mentioned Aaron Rai as the player to watch on the Challenge Tour this year. Lo and behold he stormed to victory in the very first event of the season, the Barclays Kenya Open.

Naturally, this is a little frustrating as I didn't back him but I’d glanced at the market and he’d been made favourite. Had I known his mother was Kenyan, I would perhaps have acted differently, but there we are.

Rai won primarily because he’s an outstanding prospect but the Kenya link is fascinating – it’d been almost 50 years since his mum had gone home and she was out there to watch him. No doubt he was inspired to win his first title of note.

Away from the Match Play, where Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka showed timely hints of form, there was a thrilling finish to the Puerto Rico Open and a third Tour title for DA Points.

What’s interesting is that Points had a new putter in the bag and reading about this reminded me that when he won his previous event, in Houston, he had done the same. It’s amazing the impact of these small factors sometimes, even if we only read about the ones which work.

The eyecatcher meanwhile has to be Bryson DeChambeau, who finished tied second and birdied the last when still in with a chance. Far too many people gave up on him far too quickly and he threatened to reward each-way faith at 400/1 in the Valspar recently. This was another step forward.

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