Rory McIlroy was just as stunned as the rest of the golfing public when he was named the PGA Tour’s player of the year for the 2018-19 season. You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice Wednesday when Jack Nicklaus gave him the good news at The Bear’s Club in south Florida.
The stunning part of the POY vote is that McIlroy didn’t win a major – in fact, he missed the cut at the British Open in his homeland of Northern Ireland – and did not contend in golf’s four biggest tournaments.
© GOLFFILE/MICHAEL COHEN
Rory McIlroy (left) defeated Brooks Koepka in the PGA Tour’s balloting for player of the year, despite Koepka’s clear advantage in the major championships.
Now I’ve heard all the talk about the importance of majors, and how perhaps they don’t deserve the outsized attention, but I agree with none of it.
The four major championships are the bedrock of golf, the historic pillars on which the professional game has been built. Though the major championships have shifted in the past century, with the U.S. and British amateurs being replaced by the PGA and Masters, that was part of a natural progression as professional golf grew to the game as we know it today.
So, when a player of the year does not win a major title or even contend in one of the four big events, the process must come under scrutiny. How could that happen? But to call out the process, we would have to know more about it.
We don’t. For whatever reason, the PGA Tour is unwilling to provide any clarity on the voting, or even the number of ballots cast.
Even authoritarian regimes, when they hold elections, actually disclose not only the results but all of the pertinent information about the election.
Case in point: In the 2018 Russian presidential election, Vladimir Putin won with a popular vote of 56,430,712, or 76.69 percent of ballots cast. The two other candidates’ vote counts were disclosed as well.
So why is it that the PGA Tour is unwilling or incapable of disclosing a simple count of players who voted or the vote percentage for the winner? Not even necessarily for whom each player voted but simply how many voted? PGA Tour members who played at least 15 official FedEx Cup events during the 2018-19 season were eligible to vote.
It was the first time since 1991 that the PGA Tour’s award differed from the PGA of America’s, which is based on a points system.
At lunch here Thursday ahead of this week’s Solheim Cup, many of the assembled journalists questioned how McIlroy could have been voted POY over Brooks Koepka, who had won the award in 2018.
McIlroy voted for Koepka, because he disclosed his vote on Twitter, so we know that at least one player voted. That’s about all that we can determine, with that piece of information coming from the winner, not the PGA Tour.
Of course, I believe more than one voted, but I’d be surprised if the number were not so low that it would be an embarrassment to the Tour and its process.
Remember when the PGA Tour used to have an awards dinner during the week of the Tournament of Champions in Maui? It eventually was eliminated from the schedule because of poor attendance by the players.
So, what would make you think that the vote tally was anything but a small number of responsible professionals?
Going beyond the lack of transparency, I have to wonder what players saw in McIlroy vs. Koepka that most of the golfing media did not.
Koepka and McIlroy won three times during the 2018-19 season, but Koepka won the PGA Championship and a WGC event. McIlroy won the Players and the Tour Championship: one prestigious event and one 30-man money grab.
Beyond the quality of victories, in which Koepka held an advantage, look at their record in the four major championships. In addition to his PGA victory, Koepka finished T-2 at the Masters, second at the U.S. Open and T-4 at the British Open. McIlroy was T-21 at the Masters, T-8 at the PGA, T-9 at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the British Open.
At this point, is there anything that can be said that could honestly convince you that Koepka’s season wasn’t superior to McIlroy’s?
I didn’t think so.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli