What's the Value of a No. 1 ranking...Pretty Much Zero

What’s in a number one? In college football it’s huge. In college basketball it’s meaningful yet not all that important. When it comes to professional golf, being number one means, well, pretty much absolutely zero.

Honestly, raise your hand if you think Lee Westwood is currently the best player in the world or even playing the best golf at this particular moment. Prior to yesterday, keep your hand up if you actually thought Martin Kaymer was the world’s most dominant or would hold that distinction long enough to have a nice plaque made to commemorate it.

Bottom line, despite all the attention that has been given to the world’s top perch of professional golf, the World Rankings themselves are merely a way to determine entry into significant events such as majors and World Golf Championship events and, when it comes to the top of the rung, to provide chatter when tournaments themselves fail to capture headlines or discussion points.

When it comes to determining the world’s best player, or who is trending ahead of whom, the eyeball test is a far better way to decide that. Take for instance this weekend. Had Englishmen Luke Donald won his playoff against Brendt Snedeker at The Heritage on Hilton Head Island, he, and not Westwood, would have wrestled the No. 1 ranking away from Kaymer. Instead, Westwood’s victory at an event in China earned enough “points” to best Donald’s second-place finish among a strong-field PGA Tour event.

Subsequently, Westwood and not Donald, who unlike Westwood has a significant victory to his credit this year, is the world’s No. 1 for the second time in the past nine months. In other words, the powers that be give more credit to winning against a weak field in China over just missing out in a three-hole playoff to claim a PGA Tour event that included previous tour winners such as Jim Furyk, Jason Day, Tim Herron, Ricky Barnes, Chad Campbell and Snedeker, to name just a few that were in contention on Sunday.

Throughout the week, with the prospect of taking over the No. 1 ranking well discussed, even Donald downplayed that reality to the thought of winning for the second time this year against a top-notch field. Donald, long considered one of the game’s most talented young players, captured the Accenture Match Play, a World Golf Championship event, last March in Arizona.

“If I manage to go and win, being No. 1 is just the outcome,” Donald said. “It’s still about concentrating on the process.”

Sure, would Donald have enjoyed being No. 1; without question. Yet like most competitors on the PGA and European tours, winning is the ultimate goal and that is what they work toward. Should the number 1 appear by their name as a result, so be it.

If it never happens, well, that’s okay too as long as victories still come their way. Consider this, Jim Furyk has never climbed higher than No. 2 in the world, yet he has a U.S. Open title to his credit. For his part, Westwood has now been No. 1 twice in a short period of time, but has never won a major championship or a World Golf Championship for that matter.

Do ya think Westwood would be happy to trade his number for the hardware Furyk and Donald have stored in their trophy case?

“I’ll be as simple and blunt and honest as I can be. I don’t care,” Furyk said of the world’s top ranking.

Others, including the man who held the distinction of the game’s top-ranked player, and is still arguably its best, shares Furyk’s sentiments. Tiger Woods was No. 1 long enough to outlast a sitting President, but when he talks of career accomplishments it begins and ends with victories – most notably major championship victories. To Tiger the rankings are numbers used for entry or seeding purposes not to accurately portray a player’s worldwide status in the game.

Golf is not like other sports. One week is player is great, the next, not so much. Consider this, the week before The Masters Jason Day missed the cut at the Houston Open. One week later, he finished two shots shy of becoming the first-ever Aussie to win the world’s most prestigious tournament.  Had Day donned a Green Jacket that afternoon, do you think Westwood would have walked up to him and said, “Yeah, you have a major, but in two weeks I’m going to win in China and become the world’s No. 1 again?” Doubtful at best, laughable at most.

Bottom line, just as it is in many other sports, discussion of No. 1 ranking in golf is fodder for the slow days. It’s a conversation without much merit and one that lags far behind many other more significant accomplishments in the game – winning a second-tier PGA Tour event such as The Heritage among them.

A good player may one day rest his hat on having the No. 1 associated with them. A great player, well he seeks numbers more along the lines of 18 (as in majors) to judge his place in the history of the game.

Official World Golf Ranking in the World 




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 Lee Westwood,  Eng 
 Martin Kaymer,  Deu 
 Luke Donald,  Eng 
 Phil Mickelson,  USA 
 Graeme McDowell,  Nir 
 Tiger Woods,  USA 
 Rory McIlroy,  Nir 
 Paul Casey,  Eng 
 Steve Stricker,  USA 

 Matt Kuchar,  USA 


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