Modern players, Scott Stallings and American bias

Matteo Manassero (Courtesy: StartAgain)

Matteo Manassero (Courtesy: StartAgain)

When I first started watching golf seriously, Johnny Miller was already entrenched as NBC’s lead analyst and as I’ve become more knowledgeable about the game, several things have become clear to me about the man. First, Miller is incredibly blunt while he is on the air, and when it comes to his popularity, it’s usually a love him or hate him situation. Secondly, he’s very high on his own ability from his 63 at Oakmont to his constant mentioning of himself in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and others.

Lastly, not only is Miller very pro-American, which is something he’s admitted to being on Ryder Cup broadcasts, but he also really isn’t all that knowledgeable on golf that happens outside of the PGA Tour, which also leads him to appear like he’s belittling non-PGA Tour golf. On some level, it’s understandable seeing as how his job is to be an analyst for the PGA Tour on NBC, and not for the European Tour, or any other tour that sees the best players in the world tee it up. Of course, the flip side to this is that it often appears like that pro-American bias that we see at the Ryder Cup shows up for regular events too.

Now that I’ve rambled on for two paragraphs, I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell my point is. My point actually isn’t about Miller, but I was reminded of him when I saw two tweets come through on my timeline on Tuesday.

Golf World and Golf Digest had been promoting this top 100 list of modern players for a few days, and I was interested to see what their results would be. For the most part, lists are pointless and frivolous, but they do generate discussion and coming up with a composite list of the best players across several decades is always going to draw interest. So, I clicked on the link and looked at their formula, taken from this link:

Briefly, our Modern 100 sought to:
• Intensely focus on performance, keeping subjectivity to a minimum.
• Give majors 50 percent added value, but reward day-to-day, week-to-week excellence.
• Use a formula designed to highlight a player’s best golf.

We’re doing okay so far. You can take issue with the formula, specifically with the amount of value given to major championships and the idea that players who had a really great short burst, like David Duval, would be ranked higher, but whatever formula they went with would likely end up being criticized. My issue comes with the data they used to formulate the rankings. Again, from the article:

In 1980, the PGA Tour created a database with complete scoring and performance statistics that made “apples to apples” comparative analysis more possible. Thirty-four years later, using those now-voluminous resources, Golf World has created the “100 Best Modern Players,” a ranking of the top performers on the PGA Tour since 1980.

Arbitrarily using 1980 as your starting point for “modern golf” because that’s when the PGA Tour started keeping better stats is bad enough, but the last sentence is what kills it for me. In order to formulate the list of the top 100 modern players, a ranking was put together based on the top performers on the PGA Tour over the last 34 years, completely ignoring the fact that high quality men’s golf is played all over the world and not just in North America.

Yes, the PGA Tour is the best tour on the planet right now and it has been for quite some time, but to ignore other areas, especially the European Tour, is utter nonsense. There are 37 “modern players” better than Bernhard Langer? Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Colin Montgomerie can’t even make the list? I find it hard to believe that if you ask any knowledgeable golf fan that they would say, “Yeah, David Duval was definitely a better player than Seve Ballesteros.”

I know that a lot of work went into this, and I’m sure that much of it has merit, but had the title of the piece simply been “The best modern PGA Tour players”, there would be little to be upset about. Kieran Clark nailed it on the head when he said this last night:

On that note, we’ll move on to Scott Stallings and his win at Torrey Pines from last week. Pretty much right after I saw the modern players list tweet, this one came across my timeline as well:

The link in the tweet goes to Alan Shipnuck’s latest Heroes and Zeroes piece where he essentially gives a thumbs up, thumbs down assessment of the week that was to ten different happenings in the world of golf. When talking about Stallings’ victory, Shipnuck says:

2. Scott Stallings. He now has as many PGA Tour victories as Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Billy Horschel, Matteo Manassero, Peter Ulhlein and Ryo Ishikawa…combined.

Ah yes, the old compare a player to others that have gotten way more hype despite not winning as much trick. It’s true that Stallings has three PGA Tour wins, and he should be commended for that, as it’s not easy to win on the PGA Tour, especially as a young player. Fowler, Day, Horschel and Ishikawa can attest to this as they have all had substantial time on the PGA Tour and have combined for three wins.

Uihlein and Manassero though don’t actually play on the PGA Tour, as they are over on the European Tour and really have had minimal opportunities to win here in North America. Stallings has made 87 career starts on the PGA Tour, while Uihlein and Manassero combined have managed to play 35 times, and while Uihlein’s lone win as a professional was the sparsely attended Madeira Islands Open in Portugal last year, you can very easily make the argument that Manassero’s wins, of which there are four, are far more impressive than Stallings’ three. Let’s look at the points earned in the Official World Golf Rankings for both players in those victories.

  • Stallings: 2014 Farmers Insurance Open (52 points), 2011 Greenbrier (32 points) and 2012 True South Classic (24 points).
  • Manassero: 2013 BMW PGA (64 points), 2012 Barclays Singapore Open (48 points), 2011 Maybank Malaysian Open (42 points) and 2010 Castello Masters (24 points).

By no means is the Official World Golf Rankings the perfect authority on these things, but it does give a relatively good idea on field quality and Manassero has some pretty big wins, especially last year’s BMW PGA at Wentworth. Stallings is a fine young player, but he’s also someone who has missed the cut in 53% of his events played as a professional, compared to the 15% that Manassero has missed.

Shipnuck is exaggerating for effect obviously, and something positive should be said about Stallings and the fact that he’s got three wins already at this point in his career on the PGA Tour. That something could have been that he joined Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Anthony Kim as the only players under the age of 30 with three wins, but for some reason, Manassero and Uihlein were thrown in with guys who actually play regularly on the PGA Tour.  I don’t think Shipnuck meant anything by it, and I know that the PGA Tour is looked at as a far superior tour, but that doesn’t mean that other places don’t have quality golf as well.

When you hear many of the European golf writers and fans talk about the way that the game is covered in America and how there is a very clear American bias, these two stories are the reason why.

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