The Official World Golf Ranking published on Monday March 28 2016 following the completion of the WGC Dell Match Play Championship and other official events around the world marks the completion of 30 years and 1565 issues of the ranking.
The concept of the World Ranking was born in the early 1980’s when a decade of dominance by Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and other United States golfers was being challenged by the emergence of a number of international players including Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, Jose Maria Olazabal, Tommy Nakajima and Ian Woosnam. In addition the Championship Committee of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, who had prided themselves on having the best exemption system for maintaining a strong international field for the Open Championship, found that their categorised criteria for the separate Tours was breaking down and they were “missing” some leading golfers who were now playing on many of the world’s circuits without dominating any one, and were now looking for a new format for guaranteeing the participation of leading International players.
After a great measure of research, the first issue of the “Sony Ranking” was launched prior to the 1986 Masters Tournament, overseen by an International Advisory Committee chaired by Mark H McCormack, sanctioned by the Championship Committee of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, sponsored by the Sony Corporation and managed at IMG by Tony Greer. The first No.1 was Bernhard Langer, the defending Masters Champion, with No.2 Seve Ballesteros, who had already won four of his five Major titles, followed by No.3 Sandy Lyle, the current Open Champion who the previous week had won the Greater Greensbor Open. Tom Watson was at No.4, Mark O’Meara at No.5 and Greg Norman No.6.
The basics of the ranking system remain unchanged – initially a “rolling” three-year system weighted in favour of the most recent results with points awarded according to the quality of the event based primarily on the strength of the field participating with only the Major Championships weighted separately to reflect their higher status.
However, the Advisory Committee, and latterly the Board, have always been mindful of improving the ranking system, and a number of adjustments have been made to the Ranking over the years to keep up with the changes in the world of professional golf and opinions voiced by the players. Initially a grading system of tournaments was required to establish the Ranking, but now all ranking points are determined by the strength of the participating field. In addition the Ranking is now based on “average” points rather than “total” points to be fairer to those players who do not play as many events, and at the end of 1995, the three-year “rolling” period was changed to a two-year system. Other improvements such as a more graduated decline of player’s ranking points and “rating value” of events based on the Top-200, rather than Top-100, have been introduced to improve the strength of field calculation. Also more recently the addition of a “Maximum Divisor” so that players are not penalised for playing a significant number of tournaments.
At first only the Championship Committee of the R & A, the sanctioning body, used the Ranking as a criteria for exempting players from qualifying for the Open Championship – initially the Top-40 ranked players and then the Top-50. However over the years all the other Major Championships now use the World Ranking as an exemption to their Championships. The PGA Tour formally endorsed the Sony Ranking in 1990, and at an historic meeting at Turnberry during the Open at Royal Troon in July 1997 representatives from all the professional Tours and all the Major Championships agreed to form a new Governing Board of the now named “Official World Golf Ranking” under the chairmanship of Mark H McCormack. After McCormack’s death in 2003 Sir Michael Bonallack became the new Chairman of the Official World Golf Ranking Board. In addition IMG handed over the proprietary interest of the Ranking which was transferred to a new incorporated company. This new company, Official World Golf Ranking Ltd, operates from its offices in Virginia Water, Surrey, UK with the day to day management of the Ranking carried out by Ian Barker and Sasha Forster with Tony Greer as a Consultant, who is now retiring after thirty years of being associated with the Ranking since its inception.
As well as being used as an eligibility criteria for all the Major Championships, the Official World Golf Ranking is also used for player qualification for all the World Golf Championships and more recently the Olympic Games. In addition, it is used to determine the International Team for the Presidents Cup, as part of the qualification for the European Ryder Cup team and as a qualification by a number of official Tour events throughout the world including the Players Championship for its foreign exemptions.
Some of the statistics built up as the Ranking reaches its 30 years are as follows: In that time only nineteen players, who have won 52 Major Championships between them, have joined the elite No.1 Club – after Bernhard Langer’s initial weeks as No.1, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman vied for the No.1 spot, then Nick Faldo took over as Greg Norman’s rival. Ian Woosnam and Fred Couples held the position through 1991 and 1992 before Nick Faldo was No.1 again through to 1994, then Nick Price’s burst of Majors took him to No.1. After a single week at No.1 by Tom Lehman, Tiger Woods dominated the position from 1997 with brief interruptions from Ernie Els, David Duval and Vijay Singh. However, between 2010 and 2012 first Lee Westwood, then Martin Kaymer and finally Luke Donald took over the No.1 poisition. Rory McIlroy dominated the next two years before Adam Scott made the No.1 spot for a few weeks. More recently Jordan Spieth and Jason Day have joined Rory McIlroy in a close contest for the top position. Ninety-five players have reached a Top-10 position since the Ranking began including 47 United States players, 23 from Europe and 25 from the Rest of the World. In 1997 Tiger Woods became the youngest No. 1 when he was only 21 years and 24 weeks just 42 weeks after turning professional. Vijay Singh was the oldest player to make the No.1 position at the age of 41 years and 28 weeks. Ryo Ishikawa was the youngest player to reach the Top-50 at 17 years and 50 weeks.
The current Top-50 in the Official World Golf Ranking includes players from 19 different nations; 20 players from the United States, 17 from Europe including 10 different nations, and the 13 from the Rest of the World with 8 different nations represented. The Top-6, four of whom have an average age of under 26, are Jason Day, the current PGA Champion and winner of the last two events, Jordan Spieth, the current Masters and US Open Champion, Rory McIlroy, four time Major Champion, Bubba Watson, two time Masters Champion, Rickie Fowler, the current Players Champion and Adam Scott, former Masters Champion and twice a winner on the PGA TOUR this year.