When the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour make welcome returns next week after being on hold since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so too will the Official World Golf Ranking.
Organisers behind the ranking announced on Wednesday that players competing in the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial and the Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass will earn points after all places had been frozen during the break.
At first glance that seems fair enough. But only for players on either of those tours. Not so much for those who compete elsewhere. The European Tour, for example, is not scheduled to return until the British Masters in late July. Which is why the decision to carry on as normal Stateside has not gone down too well with either the players on the Old World circuit or chief executive Keith Pelley.
“What an unfair decision!” tweeted Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera. “Well done @OWGR Ltd!!! Thanks a lot!!!”
Austrian Bernd Wiesberger weighed in with, “Agreed! Either all Tours are playing for points or none!”
And, responding to a European Tour tweet announcing that the OWGR will “restart next week,” former Ryder Cup player Andrew Coltart was quick to elaborate. “For those wondering, that’s one month before play resumes in the UK on the European Tour,” said the Scot, who is now a commentator on Sky Sports.
In a memo to European Tour members, a copy of which has been obtained by Golf Digest, Pelley outlined his own unhappiness at the result of last week’s meeting of the Official World Golf Rankings Technical Committee and the OWGR Board. While Pelley agreed with the proposal to use the current frozen rankings as eligibility for the Majors and the World Golf Championships later this year, the ability of PGA Tour players to accumulate points weeks before the vast majority of his members was a lot less acceptable.
“We agreed with the proposal that the ranking should restart alongside the resumption of the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour next week on the understanding that dispensation was made for the European Tour and the Challenge Tour – and indeed many other tours around the world – whose players will be disadvantaged by not being able to play at this time,” Pelley wrote in the memo. “Our proposal to correct this imbalance was either freezing the current average points of all European Tour members unable to play tournament golf until we restart our season or increasing the overall OWGR points available at our tournaments when we do restart.
“Without either of those adjustments, the consequences are negative for the majority of our membership, who will lose points through no fault of their own, when they are unable to play.”
Both proposals, however, were rejected, according to Pelley. And, as a result, he voted against the ranking restart proposal. According to his memo, his was the only dissenting voice.
Officials from the OWGR attempted to address the matter in a statement released on Wednesday, which noted that elements of the averaging formula used to calculate the ranking will help mitigate the issue of some players competing while others aren’t. And in a call to Golf Digest, Peter Dawson, chairman of the ranking board, elaborated on that initial reaction.
“Both the committee and the board took the view that if so many of the world’s top players are going to be playing in America in the coming weeks, we really had to restart the rankings,” said Dawson, who was the chief executive of the R&A from 1999 to 2015. “To not do so would risk, say, Jon Rahm not being World No.1 when, if we had started the rankings, he would have reached that peak. Then we had to look at the reality that the tours are not all starting at the same time. What do we do then? Do we wait for the European Tour? And if we do, what about the others, like, say the Asian circuit or the one in Japan?”
Further bolstering that argument was analysis that showed, according to Dawson, that as long as the time between start dates was not too long, non-PGA Tour players would not be disadvantaged too much. Plus, the idea of using the “frozen” ranking as qualification for major events was also useful. What the officials didn’t want to happen was someone dropping out of the top 50 through no fault of their own and losing a spot in one of the Majors.
“So the rankings had to be restarted,” Dawson said. “There was no other way without compromising the integrity of the rankings. Adjusting them by giving special weight to the European Tour or other tours in an arbitrary way wasn’t going to work. I liken this to coming out of lockdown. It’s harder to come out than it is to go in. It was almost impossible not to upset someone.
“Besides, if the players do their sums, things will not seem nearly as bad as they first thought,” Dawson added. “But I do feel for them. They have difficult decisions to make. As did we. But I feel we have done the right thing in difficult circumstances.”
Still, there are further implications for the European Tour, not least in the realm of Ryder Cup qualifying. The OWGR decision means that only the small minority of European-born players who are PGA Tour members competing in the US when that tour resumes will be able to earn points on the Ryder Cup World Points List. Not until the 2020 European Tour season starts again in July will that playing field be levelled.
So, some adjustment was required. In coordination with the European Tour’s tournament committee and Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington, Pelley told players in his memo that he has approved the “freezing” of the World Points List until the week of the “first European Tour event back.”
“Any points gained from PGA Tour or Korn Ferry Tour events this month and next – up until the restart of our season – will not officially count on the Ryder Cup World Points List,” Pelley said. “Having spoken with Padraig, he wants to reassure all members that, while the Ryder Cup World Points List is frozen, he will be monitoring the form of all possible Ryder Cup team members as part of his general review of player performances.”