Bernhard Langer is the king of the hill that is PGA Tour Champions. You know it, I know it, Langer knows it and his opponents know it.
Kevin Sutherland knows it, too, even though he won the tour’s season-ending event recently and, with it, the Charles Schwab Cup. There will be some ridicule about this, no doubt, but there’s nothing wrong with the system. If you want playoffs in golf – and these hardly qualify as true playoffs, but let’s overlook that for the sake of this argument – then you have to accept that the best player or best team doesn’t always win. For further details, please discuss this with fans of the Yankees, Indians and Dodgers.
The Sutherland Situation, which sounds like a title for a spy novel, put a spotlight on one thing that always has been missing from PGA Tour Champions: world rankings.
Langer won seven times in 2017, including three of the tour’s reputed majors (giving him 10 for his career), and more than $3 million. He dominated senior golf . . . again.
Schwab Cup points don’t get the job done in identifying the year’s best player, just like FedEx Cup points don’t always get it right on the PGA Tour, either. Both systems are esoteric and difficult to understand, but both essentially are cumulative. The Official World Golf Ranking measures strength of field and performance and arguably determines who plays the best golf each time they tee it up. Think of the OWGR as using batting average to determine the game’s best hitter instead of the batter (Schwab-FedEx Cup) who collected the most hits.
Senior golf was excluded when the OWGR was developed, which always has been a sore point among some senior stars. Langer amassed zero points for his great play in senior events in 2017.
It wouldn’t be easy to translate PGA Tour Champions results into ranking points versus the regular tour. But rankings are a better way to determine who’s the best player. So why don’t the seniors have them?
Well, they do. They’re just not authorized by the PGA Tour, which would rather promote its sponsor’s product, the Schwab Cup points, than have world rankings that might make its sponsor’s list look inferior.
You’ll be relieved to know that Langer is, indeed, No. 1 in the Power Performance Rankings for PGA Tour Champions players, the longest-running rankings in senior golf (www.SeniorGolfRankings.com). The PPR was created in 2001 by Kathy Bissell, a golf journalist in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Power Performance Rankings are pretty basic. They award points for top-30 finishes at PGA Tour Champions events. Only events played within the past 12 months count. The five majors are worth 1½ times the points of regular tour events. A player gets 30 points for finishing first, plus a five-point bonus for winning. The runner-up gets 29 points, the third-place finisher gets 28, and so on. Finishes outside the top 30 earn no points.
“I started it during the Legends of Golf, which used to be held at the World Golf Village, because Hale Irwin and Doug Tewell complained that there were no rankings for Senior Tour players,” Bissell said. “They felt it would help their tour if they had rankings. So, I experimented with a system to figure out who was better over a certain time period.”
The rankings are a one-woman operation, and Bissell is a long-time veteran of golf. She produced “The Golf Show,” a syndicated television series that ran for 10 years in the 1980s and early ’90s and featured a mix of player profiles, interviews and golf tips – Golf Channel-type stuff before Golf Channel was born. She authored two golf books (and one on swimming): “Fred Couples: Reluctant Superstar” and “Venus on the Fairway,” an instruction book for women. In her position with Coldwell Banker, she helps clients buy and sell golf courses. She also writes a special golf section on the Players Championship for the Ponte Vedra Recorder and contributes golf stories to ProGolfNow.com.
A rival senior-rankings site, Official Senior World Golf Ranking, began in 2011 (and is unofficial despite its name), and factors in European Senior Tour results, which Bissell’s PPR doesn’t.
Maybe it says something about the interest level in senior golf that Bissell’s rankings never were regularly published, especially when there once were three weekly magazine outlets – Golf World, Golfweek and Sports Illustrated’s Golf Plus – that also had websites in need of content.
It’s not surprising, however, that she doesn’t have the blessing of the PGA Tour. Bissell said the tour sent a representative to meet with her a few years ago.
“They said my rankings were inconvenient and a bit of an annoyance for Schwab,” Bissell said. “They didn’t ask me to quit doing them, but they would be happier if I did. I said I’d be glad to sell the rankings to Schwab for a small amount of money, but of course they don’t want anything that conflicts with the Schwab points list, since Schwab pays a lot of money for that exposure.”
A request to a PGA Tour official for comment on Bissell’s rankings did not get a response.
Bissell has no sponsor, doesn’t make money from the rankings, and her work doesn’t get much attention other than on her website or with the senior players who are still on her email list. So why does she keep updating the rankings?
“Because some of those players are my friends,” she said. “I don’t know why nobody started senior rankings sooner. You’ve got players like Tom Watson, Langer, Greg Norman, Colin Montgomerie and Couples. They’re good players, with large international followings. You’d think somebody would want to sponsor that. My rankings aren’t perfect; I can say that, but at least they give you something to look at so you can wonder, Who’s going to win this week?”
Sometimes the answer to that question is Kevin Sutherland or Scott McCarron or Doug Garwood. But who’s No. 1 in senior golf? It’s Langer. The Power Performance Rankings have said so all year.