Red, white and blue?
breaking into the world ranking’s top 50—or falling out—is tough with majors using the
benchmark for exemptions. no wonder fewer americans are in the club // BY Brett Aver Y
Warren LittLe/Getty imaGes
Suppo Se you o Wned a mutual
fund that had lost 64 percent of its
value from 1998 to 2008. We’re not
talking tech companies limping after
the dot-com crash but a basket of blue
chips that for decades paid widows-and-orphans dividends. Then from
2009 to today the same fund regained
a third of that loss. Would you sell?
Or, perhaps more interestingly, if you
were sitting on the sidelines, would
This is the big-picture question
that golf faces as 2012 arrives. The
fund in this example is the collection
of United States men at the apex of
the professional game.
If real-time scoring on tour websites
is the pro game’s stock ticker, the
World Ranking is its global index.
When the year-end ranking was
released a few weeks ago, the U.S. had
18 players in the top 50 and four in the
top 10. While dismal sounding, it is
significantly better than the end of
2008, when the U.S. traded at its
historic low: a dozen top-50s, two top-
10s (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson).
Compared to 1998, though, the U.S.
remains in the tank. That season
ended with 33 men in the top 50 and
five in the top 10, numbers identical to
1996. There is significance, however,
to 1998: That November the Masters
became the first U.S.-based major
championship to extend an invitation
to the top 50 players on the world
ranking (the British Open had used it
since 1987, the first full year of the
ranking, for the top 40).
“Our existing qualification system
has served us well,” new club
chairman Hootie Johnson said in a
statement noting that the PGA Tour-
winner exemption would disappear in
2000. “We think, however, our new
methodology better reflects the
changes in golf and will insure that
the best players worldwide are
invited to the Masters each year.”
The change corresponded with the
debut of the World Golf Champion-
ships in 1999 and precipitated an
American decline that accelerated
after 2001, when the USGA also
offered a top- 50 exemption into the
U.S. Open (it had been the top 20).
The bubble burst in 2006, with the
U.S. dropping from 20 top-50s to 13.