The Golfer Watchability Index: Part 1
If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that you’re a golf fan and by extension, it’s a relatively safe assumption that you’re a fan of other sports as well. Sports fans love to debate about who the best players are and why their teams are better than someone else’s, but there’s one thing that all of us can (hopefully) agree on: we all like to be entertained.
In my opinion, Zach Lowe is the best sportswriter on the planet at simultaneously informing and entertaining the reader, and with his NBA League Pass Rankings as my inspiration, I present to you the Golfer Watchability Index. This will be posted in five parts, ranking my own selections for the 50 most watchable golfers in the game right now. It’s all horribly unscientific, but each player was ranked based on the following five categories:
- Ability: Plain and simply, how good the player is at the professional level. This number was multiplied by two in the final tally to give it extra weight in the rankings.
- Play Style: Typically, the guy who pulls 5-iron out instead of going for the green in two with the 3-wood gets a lower grade here. Also multiplied by two to give it extra weight because really, we’re talking about how much entertainment value a player provides and nothing sucks the life out of that like a lay up. We miss you, AK.
- #TourSauce: The No Laying Up crew have turned this into a phenomenon that is impossible to ignore at this point, and it also greatly enhances the viewing experience. Multiplied by 1.5.
- Emotion: Golfers, by nature, are looked at as boring and stiff but some really stand out because they actually appear to have a personality. This game frustrates everyone, even the best players, so showing a little emotion and anger is not only appreciated, it’s completely understandable. No multiplier here.
- Miscellaneous: Some of the other categories I was thinking of initially didn’t really seem to merit full consideration on their own, so I combined things like aesthetic appeal, attire and story into one section as a bit of a catch-all. No multiplier used here either.
Before we get started, I wanted to mention one thing: I didn’t feel like I was qualified to judge the women’s game because I haven’t watched enough of it in the last couple of years to really make an accurate assessment. So, let’s get started!
Notables to miss the cut
- Keegan Bradley: If he was playing a little better, I might be able to deal with the fidgeting.
- Eddie Pepperell: Think he has a bright future, and is in the discussion for golf’s most thoughtful player.
- Ryo Ishikawa: Absolutely love the way he dresses, but needs to play better for consideration.
- Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas and Webb Simpson: Meh.
- Patrick Rodgers: Just haven’t seen enough of him to feel confident putting him on the list. Same goes for Smylie Kaufman.
- Sangmoon Bae: Should probably be here, but we can’t actually watch him now barring a miraculous rescue.
- Robert Streb: I’m a supporter of #StrebNation, but it’s not there yet.
- Ernie Els: I actually cringe when I see Ernie on the greens these days, so despite having one of the game’s most gorgeous swings, I don’t want to put myself through it right now.
(Yes, this means Tiger Woods will be on the list somewhere.)
50. Luke Donald (51.5)
The former world number one kicks us off, and he came perilously close to not making the list at all. His play has fallen off in recent years after a bizarre coaching change saga in an attempt to get more distance and even more bizarrely a few weeks ago, Donald was dumped by his long time caddie John McLaren. For whatever reason, I’m a big believer in Donald and still have no doubt that he’ll regain much of the form that took him to number one in the world, even though attaining that again is pretty much impossible at this point. He’s still an excellent short game player and I’m not sure that anyone is better out of a bunker than him, which adds to his appeal. Why the perfect ten in miscellaneous? He’s pretty much always dressed impeccably to start, and on top of that, I could watch his swing all day.
T49. Anirban Lahiri (52)
Coming into 2015, I was casually aware of Anirban Lahiri but it didn’t go much further than that. I knew he was a big hitter who had won quite a bit in Asia and India, but if given the option, I couldn’t pick him out of a group of golfers named Anirban. Now though, I’m really excited to see where he goes. He’s posting top-10’s in Europe and the U.S. with regularity now, including a T5 at the PGA Championship where he also won the long drive competition, and those quality finishes come with an aggressive style and a budding #TourSauce game that will likely jump above six now that he’s going to be on TV with more frequency. His importance to the game in India, while probably a little overblown at the moment, is important and I’m convinced that his hiccup at the Presidents Cup will make him even more compelling moving forward.
T49. Zach Johnson (52)
There’s no doubt that the reigning Open Championship winner is one of the best players in the world, but in terms of watchability, he doesn’t exactly leap to mind. Still, there’s little in the game that can be more entertaining than Zach Johnson with a wedge in his hands when he’s going well, as he’s an absolute magician with the short clubs. He’s not the biggest hitter in the world, but that doesn’t really affect his play style just because he’s just making the most of what he has in the bag, and he does that very well, dissecting courses with surgical precision. Much like Lahiri, he’s a little underrated in the #TourSauce annals too, mostly because he’s a master of the tragedy:
He was a part of one of the more entertaining moments of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season as well, albeit inadvertently:
T49. Ryan Moore (52)
I’ve always thought that Ryan Moore should contend and win more often than he does, and I’m sure he feels the same way but he’s still pretty fun to watch and his rating on this list is pretty much exclusively because of his perfect ten in the miscellaneous section. First off, I’ve always enjoyed watching him swing because of not only the slightly slower pace, but the little move he does at the top of the downswing. It’s just different enough to make it completely recognizable when you stop and watch the coverage, which is a rarity in the game these days since pretty much every new swing looks exactly alike.
Plus, anyone who is willing to wear this on the course needed to be on the list somewhere:
T49. Matthew Fitzpatrick (52)
The 21-year old Fitzpatrick just won his first event as a professional, taking the British Masters in his native United Kingdom, and it’s not a stretch to say that he’s the best young player on the European Tour. On top of that, he plays aggressively and he’s actually a pretty fun and engaging interview as well:
Fitzpatrick isn’t getting the attention of someone like Justin Thomas or Tony Finau, but we will be talking about this kid A LOT going forward. Guaranteed.
T45. Jim Furyk (52.5)
The perception of Jim Furyk is that he’s slow and he plays a game with an excitement level akin to a Tiger Woods press conference, and while I don’t necessarily disagree with any of that, I love watching Furyk. We all know about the most unique swing in the game, and sure, it doesn’t have the aesthetic appeal of Louis Oosthuizen’s move at the ball, but there’s no doubt that it works exceedingly well and even though he’s been on tour for over twenty years, I’m still fascinated by the swing every time I see him tee it up. On top of that, his relentless consistency is something to applaud and he’s actually got way more of a personality than he gets credit for. His interview on Feherty is one of the best episodes of the show to date, and he’s refreshingly honest about his game and what he thinks, which can be in short supply these days.
T45. Boo Weekley (52.5)
If Boo Weekley is on my television and anywhere near a microphone, I will drop whatever I’m doing to make sure I hear what he has to say, and to be honest, this rating feels a little low to me. There’s no one in the game that comes close to being anything like Weekley, a completely unique person in golf who would be perfectly content to spend the rest of his life away from the course, hunting and fishing but for our sake, I really hope he plays forever. His personality is what everyone knows him for, but his ball striking is superb. Weekley, much like John Senden, is one of those players that the other guys watch on the range because of how good they are at just striping the ball. Plus, he gave us this:
T45. Padraig Harrington (52.5)
When I think back at the 2014-15 PGA Tour season, I’m not sure that any one individual tournament win made me happier than watching Padraig Harrington defeat Daniel Berger in a playoff at the Honda Classic back in March. Harrington, much like Weekley albeit in a completely different way, is a unique character who makes the game better just because of his presence in it. His interview on Alan Shipnuck’s podcast is great, and his interview with Feherty might be my favourite episode, all because he’s a super interesting guy who has some very thoughtful takes on the game. I love that golf is very clearly trending in a younger direction, which is something that it has needed desperately over the past few years, but having someone like Harrington, who was as dominant as any player over a period of time not named Tiger Woods, back in the mix would be fantastic. He won three majors in eighteen months and decided to completely tear down his swing and start over, leading to years of inconsistency. He’s a little crazy, and all of that leads to someone who needs to be watched.
T45. Tyrrell Hatton (52.5)
I’m sure some of you are probably wondering who Tyrrell Hatton is, and if you’re one of those people, you’re missing out on not only a good talent, but someone who displays a level of emotion that is truly impressive. His swing reminds me a little of Geoff Ogilvy, especially with his back foot and finish, and even though he hasn’t won yet on the European Tour, he plays aggressively like every other young player out there and isn’t afraid to show people how he feels.
Now, if he goes back to playing without a hat, he’ll jump up the list even further. Show off that mop.
T41. Branden Grace (53)
Watching Branden Grace team with Louis Oosthuizen at the Presidents Cup and go 4-0 before taking it to Matt Kuchar in Sunday singles was a lot of fun. Grace is one of those guys that plays almost exclusively in Europe and comes over to North America for his qualified majors and WGC events, and man, I wish we saw more of him over here. When he’s playing well, he can go as low as anyone out there, and that makes for the most entertaining kind of golf imaginable and he does it with a swing that is very pleasing to the eye.
Much like the other big name South Africans on tour, Charl Schwartzel excluded, Grace could probably be a little more expressive, but that’s really the only negative thing you can say about him from a watchability standpoint.
The next post will examine golfers 40-31.