Archive for Wednesday, July 28, 2004

PGA pros bemoan Ryder points system

Top-10 demand can fail consistent players

July 28, 2004


Scott Verplank is 12th in the Ryder Cup standings with three tournaments left, and he will have only himself to blame if he fails to earn one of the 10 spots on the U.S. team.

Or he could blame George Schneiter.

Schneiter was chairman of the PGA Tournament Committee in 1947 when he came up with a system to select the Ryder Cup team, awarding points for top-10 finishes.

There have been a few tweaks since then, but nothing substantial. And while the PGA of America occasionally looks at other methods, chief executive Jim Awtrey says, "We haven't found anything that works better."

But what might have been equitable 54 years ago now seems outdated on a talent-rich PGA Tour where one stroke can be the difference between fifth place and 11th place, between Ryder Cup points and no points.

Verplank can relate.

He was two shots behind at the Byron Nelson Championship and in dire need of birdies. Verplank took aim at a flag tucked behind the pond on the par-3 17th, went into the water and made double bogey. More than a chance to win, more than an extra $90,000 in the bank, those two shots dropped him from a tie for seventh into a tie for 14th.

Two months later at the Western Open, Verplank made a bogey on the 18th hole that dropped him from a tie for seventh into a tie for 11th, costing him another 20 points toward the Ryder Cup.

The PGA Tour is stronger than ever. Finishing in the top 10 is not as easy as it was a decade ago. In his last three starts, Verplank has tied for 11th at the Western, tied for seventh at the British Open and tied for 11th in Milwaukee.

Three solid performances, two of them for naught.

"Why does it have to be top 10?" Brad Faxon said. "Is ninth that much better than 11th?"

Try explaining that to Chris DiMarco.

The PGA of America in 2001 looked at what would happen if points were awarded to the top 20. Not much changed, although DiMarco would have been 10th. He finished 13th in the standings and was left off the team.

DiMarco is 18th on the current list, and he stopped counting the number of times he has finished outside the top 10 by one or two strokes during the last three years.

"It doesn't reward guys that are consistent," DiMarco said.

Charles Howell III posed an interesting scenario. A player could miss the cut in three majors, finish fifth in the other and gain 120 points. Another player could finish 11th in all four majors and get nothing.

"You can't argue with the guys who make the team," Howell said. "But it's hard to believe that 11th is not a good finish. The system should somehow be weighted."

And that's where the system is flawed.

Fred Funk was the butt of jokes for ducking a major championship to try to collect Ryder Cup points against junior-varsity competition at the B.C. Open. What irritated his peers was that third place at the B.C. Open was equivalent to seventh place at the British Open.

Funk tied for 40th at the B.C. Open, so it didn't matter. A week later in Milwaukee (another weak field), Funk tied for second and earned 85 points. That's more than what Chris Riley got for a tie for second at Torrey Pines, one of the stronger tournaments on the schedule.

The PGA of America gives double points for the majors, which it should. But it does not distinguish between The Players Championship and the Reno-Tahoe Open, between the World Golf Championship and an opposite-field tournament like Tucson.

"We have not taken a position to rank individual tournaments," Awtrey said. "What we do is say that the strongest fields are the majors, and we double those points. Those events we know produce the best players in the world."

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