Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Venus and Mars Count Their Points

Here's a question I've been pondering since the last world rankings were released early this week: Are the LPGA players trying harder than the PGA players?

I'm sure most of you will just write this off as one of my crazy ramblings... and you might not be wrong. I asked Hound Dog about one aspect of this and he said... well, let me show you. Here are the Rolex World Rankings for this week:
  1. Jiyai Shin, 10.89
  2. Cristie Kerr, 10.64
  3. Suzann Petterson, 10.52
  4. Ai Miyazato, 10.50
  5. Na Yeon Choi, 10.38
  6. Yani Tseng, 10.14
  7. Michelle Wie, 7.92
  8. Song-Hee Kim, 7.67
  9. Paula Creamer, 7.35
  10. In Kyung Kim, 7.22
  11. Sun Ju Ahn, 7.15
  12. Inbee Park, 6.36
I went this far down so you can see the pattern. You have six players closely grouped at the top, then there's a big drop to the next five, then another large drop. Anna Nordqvist, at #13, drops into the 5's.

Now look at the mens' rankings:
  1. Lee Westwood, 8.29
  2. Tiger Woods, 8.13
  3. Martin Kaymer, 7.98
  4. Phil Mickelson, 7.83
  5. Steve Stricker, 7.20
  6. Jim Furyk, 7.09
  7. Paul Casey, 6.14
  8. Luke Donald, 5.70
  9. Rory McIlroy, 5.44
  10. Graeme McDowell, 5.43
Notice the difference? The women are grouped in what I'll call "tiers" while the men are more evenly spaced out.

I asked Hound Dog if this tiering among the women was unusual and he said it wasn't, but I don't remember seeing this many women grouped together like this. I know the men aren't playing as much right now, but I don't ever remember seeing them in such defined tiers at all! For example, I went back to June 15, 2008 (after Tiger won the 2008 US Open) for a comparison, and found Tiger at 21.542, Phil at 10.214, and the rest starting back in the 5's.

Now I don't claim to understand how the points work. The link to Hound Dog's blog will give you a discussion that's been going on about how Lorena Ochoa's absence has affected how many points are up for grabs, and I suppose something similar may be going on in the men's game since Tiger hasn't won this year.

But here's where my question comes from: Only Martin Kaymer seems to have really taken advantage of Tiger's woes, but no less than 6 of the women have managed to separate themselves from the pack since Lorena left the game. I should add that there's nearly a point jump between #6 and #7 in the OWGR, so comparing both the Top 10 and the Top 6 on each list seems fair.

The Top 10 women account for 15 LPGA victories, including all 4 majors. The Top 10 men account for 10 PGA victories, including 3 majors. Narrow that to the Top 6 women and they have 13 wins with 3 majors, while the Top 6 men have 8 wins with 2 majors. In neither case am I counting wins on other tours, simply because both groups have played on multiple tours and I can't be sure I'm counting all of the victories.

And let's compare total victories by player as well (total victories, followed by majors if applicable). First the women:
  1. Jiyai Shin, 1
  2. Cristie Kerr, 2,1
  3. Suzann Petterson, 0 (10 Top 5s)
  4. Ai Miyazato, 5
  5. Na Yeon Choi, 2
  6. Yani Tseng, 3,2
Now the men:
  1. Lee Westwood, 1
  2. Tiger Woods, 0 (2 Top 5s)
  3. Martin Kaymer, 1,1
  4. Phil Mickelson, 1,1
  5. Steve Stricker, 2
  6. Jim Furyk, 3
Tiger and Suzann both had their best finishes at majors. Tiger's Top 5s were T4s at the Masters and US Open. Petterson was solo 2nd at the Kraft Nabisco and T2 at the US Women's Open.

And out of fairness, I'll add injuries: Westwood had the calf injury, Stricker the chest injury and Phil had the arthritis problems. For the women, Shin had an appendectomy and Petterson has had a chronic hip injury.

So... have the women been working harder than the men? I think you can make a good case that they have.

I guess the next big question is why? But I'll leave that one up to someone else. ;-)

3 comments:

  1. This isn't going to be deep or anything, but couldn't it just be luck that the top female golfers have been playing so much better so much more consistently than the top male players? Think about it: it's hard to imagine that Suzann Pettersen, Song-Hee Kim, In-Kyung Kim, and Inbee Park could be skunked this year on the LPGA when they've been playing so well, but that's when happens when the top 5 are racking up so many wins.... That's a lot of players to be playing so well--can't it just be a blip?

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  2. I've never been much of one to look at standings and conclude that one group is "trying harder" than another group. Statistics mean nothing to the individual - and pure effort doesn't necessarily equate to winning.

    I've watched women's tournaments and watched them sit on the practice tee for hours beating balls, then spend 15 minutes chipping and putting before teeing off.

    And I've watched men's tournaments and seen how much more time they spend around the practice green than the women do. (Annika Sorenstam admitted how much harder the men work on the short game than the women)

    Winning isn't necessarily about effort. Winning is special. Some people seem to do it with such ease, you wonder if they ever break a sweat, but know in your heart and mind that they do work hard.

    Winning is about being able to hold your nerve in big situations and perform.

    I think the women have had time to ramp up following the Annika and Ochoa years - but the men haven't. Tiger Woods has been in that same world as Annika and Ochoa - but he hasn't retired. His fall isn't because of age or an announced retirement that left the top ranking spot open - it came as a result of injury and personal screw ups. The men haven't had time for a new pack of guys to step up and get used to winning.

    So when I hear "are the women working harder than the men", I have to ask "are you talking about physical effort or are you talking about that special spark that separates winners from the rest of the pack ?"

    The women's game and the men's game aren't exactly alike. The women play steady golf on resort courses. The men's game is much closer in talent, so they have to take more chances, and they have to have better short games.

    I think there are more women capable of winning more than once or twice a year than the men right now - but that's because they have had time to build up their winning skills.

    Just my opinion.

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  3. I think both of you hit on some of the same thoughts that I have, so let me "mix your responses" and see what you think.

    TC, I don't think it's just luck, primarily because you see the same thing frequently on the PGA. Matt Kuchar was leading in virtually every stat category, but only managed one win at the end of the regular season. Paul Casey, Jeff Overton, Bo Van Pelt, and Robert Allenby (just to name a few) played incredibly well and yet couldn't break through even once. I would say that a similar happening on the LPGA represents a quantum leap in quality of play by the leaders.

    Court, I'm not sure that "ramp up time" has much to do with it. That assumes that players don't try as hard to improve when there's a dominant player or two ahead of them. Unless you had put in the work earlier on, you wouldn't be ready to respond to any opportunities to jump into that category yourself. While I'm willing to cut him a little slack because it takes a while to work out medicines, the fact remains that Phil had 12 chances to take #1 and couldn't get over the hump despite having so many wins himself, including the Masters this year. You can see the same with Ai and Cristie, who threw away several attempts at victory this year despite racking up 7 wins with 1 major. That kind of thing happens to everybody when they try too hard... and you can see that happen on both tours among the top players, so I don't think that's it.

    And I don't think the "resort courses" make that much of a difference either. Remember my post comparing how long the LPGA players were to the PGA, relative to course length? They're about the same. Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker -- those guys play "steady golf" and are extremely dominant on tour.

    As for short game play, you have to remember that Annika wasn't considered particularly good at the short game originally, so she definitely had to work at it. Most of the leading women players do have good short games. If I remember correctly, green speeds during Cristie's blowout win at the LPGA Championship were comparable to the Masters.

    But I think you may be on to something when you talk about the "spark" making a difference. It might make a difference if the men had to earn their way into the Hall of Fame like the women do, or if the men had been forced to play a contracted schedule like the women have had the last couple of years.

    Guys, if I was guessing at a reason for the sudden improvement on the LPGA, that would be mine. There are fewer wins available, so the top players are competing against each other more often and having to travel more to do it. Many, if not most, of the women are playing more than one tour when possible... and quite a few are maintaining dual memberships to be sure they get to play enough. It just demands more determination and commitment to make it on the LPGA right now, and I think it's showing up in the improved level of play.

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