Blog 75, 11/3/10 - Lee Westwood's Controversial Rise to the Top of the World Rankings, Plus Winter Rates in Bellingham

The system never lies - Westwood is a legitimate No. 1.
As an Englishman, I obviously welcomed the news that Lee Westwood had become the 13th player to achieve No. 1 status in the official world rankings. Westwood is the first from Blighty to become number one since Nick Faldo who eventually broke Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros's stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the first week of September 1990 - six weeks after having won his fourth major title - and who last occupied the position in early February 1994.
Because the world rankings began in April 1986, and because the top ranking had gone back and forth between Norman and Ballesteros for the first four years (Bernhard Langer also had a short spell at the top), Faldo was England's first official world number one. Before him, you'd probably have had to go back to Henry Cotton to find a Limey with a legitimate claim. Tony Jacklin won the Open Championship in 1969 and the US Open a year after that but, of course, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, a young Tom Weiskopf and a 40-ish Arnold Palmer would have been piling up points at the same time. Cotton turned professional in 1924 and won the Open Championship in '34, '37 and again in '48, so the beginning of his career overlapped with the end of Bobby Jones's and, towards the end, two more Americans - Sam Snead and Ben Hogan - would have provided some fairly stern competition.
Before Cotton, few would have disputed Harry Vardon had been the best player in the world for a decade or more around the turn of the 20th century. Countryman JH Taylor and Scot James Braid certainly had their moments, each winning five Opens, but ultimately Vardon trumped them both with six, and a US Open (1900). And John McDermott, America's first great professional, didn't win his first national championship until 1911.
Forgive me for going on about English number ones; you'll indulge a native Brit.
So what about Westwood finally reaching the position he has dreamt of for so long? On the one hand, it is well-deserved and the logical result of an unmatched level of consistency over the last two years - 18 top-ten finishes on the European Tour since the beginning of 2009, including ten top-threes, plus four top-three finishes in his last five majors. On the other, there is of course a snag - he has won only twice in Europe (2009 Dubai World Championship and Portugal Masters) and once in the US (2010 St. Jude Classic) in that time.
With no major or WGC titles to Westwood's name, one can understand Woods's former swing coach Butch Harmon lambasting the system that put the Englishman top. "The system sucks," he said earlier this week, ahead of the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai where Westwood, Woods, World No. 3 Martin Kaymer and No. 4 Phil Mickelson all play. "Kaymer should be No. 1. Did Westwood win a major this year, or any year? I think not." (Funny, it was Harmon who told Sky Sports at the Ryder Cup, just four weeks ago, that Westwood was the greatest player in the world. "No one is playing better," he said. "No one is swinging better. He has it all.” Kaymer has admittedly won again since then - at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.)
There are parallels with the widely-criticized FedEx Cup points system which comes under attack every year for its complexity, wild fluctuations, and apparent inability to provide the end-of-season drama PGA Tour policy-makers envisioned. And the barbs will no doubt continue for many years. But when the steady flow of sneers and insults does eventually abate, I'm guessing it won't be because Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem came up with a brilliant solution that appeased every disapproving voice. It will be because everyone eventually got comfortable with the fact that no system can possibly satisfy everyone, and that what we have now is infinitely better than the drab anti-climax to the PGA Tour season we used to get.
And that's how it is, at least how it should be, with the world rankings. The system has been changed several times since 1986, the current scheme in place since the start of 2007. Points are earned over a two-year period, not three as before. And now the total a player earns at each event remains in place for 13 weeks before being taken away in equal decrements of 1/92nd of the original amount for the remaining 91 weeks of the two-year ranking period.
(I assure you, I didn't write that last sentence until I understood exactly what it meant - the official explanation of the OGWR system can make the official Rule book read like 'Thomas the Tank Engine' in places.)
Yes, it's horribly complicated. But it needs to be. Results from ten professional tours around the world are taken into account after all. And because a freak of nature had been at the top for so long, no one really paid much attention to the system's validity. Woods was obviously way better than everyone else and, sure enough, he had a big lead at the top of the rankings. The system must therefore have been working.
Now that majorless Westwood has succeeded Woods, people aren't so sure. But as the European Tour's stats man Ian Barker said yesterday, there will never be a system that everyone thinks is perfect. "We used to have a similar situation to tennis with the anniversary effect, but we managed to take that out of the world golf rankings and I believe it's improved as a result," he said. "Players lose their points in a much more uniform manner rather than in a spiky way. With our system, three months after a tournament win, a player will start to lose those points gradually, rather than all at once. And our system's strength is that it's completely transparent and not voted on by committee. It's pure maths."
And maths, like the truth, can often hurt.

Far more importantly, winter rates are now in place at all Bellingham courses, except for Lake Padden where the winter discount comes into effect this coming Saturday. At Shuksan, you pay $21 every day of the week. At North Bellingham, it's $30 during the week, and $40 at weekends. Sudden Valley is charging $20 during the week (except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when you pay jusr $12!) and $25 at weekends. Rates at Lake Padden will be $20 on weekdays and $25 on Saturday and Sunday.
Congratulations to Jay Tinker and Neil Goit who each won $250 at last weekend's Memorial Tournament at Lake Padden, the last event on the Men's Club calendar. And high-fives to Joey and Jason Anderson, Kevin Miller and Craig Bailey who combined for a Gross 59 at North Bellingham's Halloween Side Hill Scramble where the pins were apparently tucked in some rather challenging spots.


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