MURRAY, KRAFT AND THE WORLD RANKING DEBATE

The 1st time I had read about Grayson Murray’s ways was at the beginning of March when I read a story about his social media activities.

http://www.golfchannel.com/news/golf-central-blog/murray-calls-out-boring-peers-social-media/

As someone who conducts media training with professional sports people, his was a view I was interested in. He claimed golf would gain popularity instead of losing it, if PGA Tour players opened up on social media.

Well, thanks to some debate or trash talk (depends on your perspective) in cahoots with Kelly Kraft, he has put that to the test. It’s got players and journalists, coaches and fans of the game talking. It’s a subject that was tackled by the excellent Ben Coley but from someone who travels the world commentating on golf, I thought I could maybe add some perspective.

https://www.sportinglife.com/golf/news/coley:-put-up-or-shut-up/49415

It all started with Kelly Kraft claiming he was surprised how fast some of the Asian Tour and European Tour players rise in the world ranking and Grayson Murray adding that they should go over there and be in every major and WGC event.

Kraft’s original tweet and Matt Griffin’s riposte

To give some brief background to the two players, Kraft is a PGA Tour player. He was a very good amateur (winning the US Amateur) and spent a couple of years on the secondary tour of America, the Web.com tour, before a win on that tour elevated him to the top level. At the start of 2017, he was outside the top 400 on the world rankings but thanks mainly to a runner up finish at the start of the year to Jordan Spieth at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he is now inside the top 200.

Grayson Murray had an excellent season on the Web.com in 2016 and qualified for the PGA Tour with a win and a lot of good finishes in his rookie season. He started 2016 about 1700 in the world rankings but climbed into the top 200 thanks to his play on the secondary tour in the space of 12 months. In 2017 on the PGA Tour, it has mainly been missed cuts.

Their gripe appears to be with the world rankings, that they are too heavily weighted for the European and Asian Tours (it turns out from their twitter exchanges – just any tour outside of the PGA Tour) and thus the ability of those who climb the world rankings based on performances on those tours to gain access to the big events. It’s a lazy argument that some might say is best ignored. Well, it hasn’t been ignored. Have they got a point at all? And should we giving them all this publicity they so obviously seek?

Some well known journalists joining in on the debate

Do players gain access to the majors and WGCs via just the world ranking? Well, some of the time. For example, if you were ranked inside the top 50 of the world rankings at the start of 2017, you would be eligible to tee it up at Augusta National next week. And yes, this can cause some incredible scenarios. If Thongchai Jaidee had won the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship, an Asian Development Tour event over Christmas, he would have earned enough world ranking points to leap into the top 50. Goodness knows how Messrs Kraft and Murray would have felt if that had happened! There are various cut off points like this that can gain you access to the big events throughout the year.

But another way to achieve entry is by winning the Order of Merit on various tours. For example, the PGA Tour of Australasia will get you into the Open and two of the WGCs. Matt Griffin was the winner in 2016, even though he plays most of his golf in Japan. But a victory  at the New Zealand Open helped him end 2016 as the number one player in Australia.

The Open Championship has a number of qualifying events at tournaments, such as the Tshwane Open in South Africa and the Singapore Open in Asia where the 1st three players not yet exempt would get entry to Birkdale this summer.

Singapore Open 2017

So, is this right? Griffin performed poorly at the WGC in Mexico which Murray seems to claim is justification for his argument. A case of missing the point.

So what if Thongchai had won on the Asian Development tour and got into the Masters. It wouldn’t have been based on solely that. For example, Jaidee won the Open de France on a tough course and in an excellent field back in July.

So what if Griffin didn’t play well in Mexico. This tournament was, admittedly, a big step up for Griffin in terms of what he’s used to. The first time standing on the range with Phil, Rory and Jordan and co. The first time playing an event of such calibre. It was nearly a year from his big win in New Zealand. Maybe he struggled with the altitude, with jet lag, maybe he was carrying a bit of an injury. Griffin didn’t make any of those excuses, said he just played bad. But he’ll be stronger for the experience, just as I am sure Grayson Murray’s start to 2017 in missing cuts is based on a number of factors. But Griffin earned his spot at that event as has Murray on the PGA Tour.

It’s about meritocracy, not closed shops. I commentate on some of the MLS action on Sky Sports. There is no relegation or promotion in American soccer and it’s the same with all their sports. Maybe, we need to see where Murray and Kraft are coming from.  From a country that calls a basically domestic competition, the World Series.

I couldn’t tell you how many countries I have been too, it is many. And there is no doubt that travel broadens the mind. I love going to America and have worked at some great tournaments there. And there is no doubt the PGA Tour is the primary golf tour, it’s where nearly all golf pro aspire to be. But even the PGA Tour realises that America needs the world. That’s why they have an event in Malaysia and why there will be a big new event in Korea in 2017.

And Kraft and Murray may feel aggrieved that some player from abroad has gained access to the biggest golf tournaments of the year. But they deserve to be there. How familiar were they with Hideto Tanihara before the World Matchplay. How much did they know about Anirban Lahiri before his 5th place finish at the PGA Championships? The examples are fairly endless

Mark Broadie’s essay on World golf ranking bias suggest the system is against the PGA Tour player.

http://www.columbia.edu/~mnb2/broadie/Assets/owgr_20120507_broadie_rendleman.pdf

It is not an easy read but of course there are valid points in it. Using an example of Ikeda and Watney is interesting. Watney out-performs Ikeda at 10 of the 12 events they play together at in 2010. And yet they finish the year on a similar ranking. The argument seems simple, doesn’t it? It’s biased against Watney with Ikeda picking up easy points elsewhere. Ikeda is an interesting example as here is a player who is a prolific winner in Japan, yet that hasn’t translated elsewhere. Ikeda played two events that were co-sanctioned between the Asian and Japanese tours in January this year and missed the cut at both. This from a guy who won 3 times in japan in 2016 and was a runner up on 6 occasions! So it’s not just in the USA he can struggle.

So why does he struggle? First of all, for any player going out of your comfort zone is not easy. There are language, diet and cultural issues. Then there is the game. Ikeda is not a big hitter. On the majority of courses in the USA at major tournaments, that puts him at a disadvantage to say a Watney, who is after all playing on more familiar territory too. In Japan, he is playing on fairly tight courses that suits his game and where he feels supreme given his past successes.  Then bear in mind that the Japanese Tour season doesn’t get under way properly until after the Masters because of the weather in that country, so Ikeda has only played so far in 2017 in those WGC events outside of those two Asian tour events. He’s coming into the big events early in the year under-cooked.

There is fantastic young talent coming from all over the world as I wrote about in January and it’s great to see. http://richardkaufman.co.uk/the-golf-age-spectrum/

That should only improve thanks to organisations like the R and A distributing much income to all the corners of the globe to expand the game and with the tours outside of the PGA Tour coming together in collaborations. The fact there are now world ranking points for players on the MENA Tour and PGA Europro Tour will only help the best rise to the top and come through the ranks. Not everyone has the easy path, the access to facilities that will make them a star at a young age or in demand by the US collegiate system. Stories like SSP Chawrasia’s are humbling and heart-warming.  Geography or banks accounts shouldn’t be the deciding factor in what talent comes out on top, even if that does give some a big head start.

So, what about Grayson Murray and Kelly Kraft? Part of me would like to see them show up at an event on the Asian Tour at the end of the year. Kraft did play the Thailand Golf Championship in 2013 and missed the cut with scores of 73 and 76. Out-performed by the likes of Bhullar, Marksaeng and many more. Their views have at times made me wince and bordered on the embarrassing. Murray resorting to digging at Byeong Hun An’s name got the reply it deserved from another European tour winner of Asian heritage, David Lipsky.

 

So Grayson Murray, are your out-spoken views helping golf gain popularity? No, but they are gaining you notoriety. But it’s time for you and Kelly to put up or shut up. Your priority right now is to make cuts on the PGA Tour, so you can keep your status there. But after the season ends which looks like happening before the Fedex for you right now, come and play elsewhere. Try and play some events in Europe, Asia and / or Australia. Then see whether those events deserve the ranking points they receive.  You obviously have some game as your results showed last year. But show a little respect. You might think you are being funny but you have crossed the line. Golf needs characters, it doesn’t need narrow mindedness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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