Why The SPWAR Is Better Than The WAGR

9th January 2020 – Updated

There are two main amateur rankings, the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) and the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking (SPWAR).

The WAGR is run by The R&A and based in St. Andrews, Scotland.

The SPWAR is a labour of love for Fred Solomon, who lives in San Francisco, USA.

Both rankings can be viewed by clicking on these two links – the WAGR and the SPWAR.

SPWAR Logo

In summary the WAGR has always enjoyed credibility through its association with golf’s main governing bodies, The R&A and the USGA, but has lacked the clarity and accuracy of the SPWAR.

The WAGR introduced a new approach in January 2020 – the ‘Power Method’. This has seen it improved with many of its historic weaknesses removed; namely, having no ageing and allocating points based on individual round scores rather than final results – which in turn led to players gaining points even if they failed to finish an event.

However, even after allowing for the 2020 upgrade, in my view the WAGR remains inferior to the SPWAR for the following reasons: –

1. The new points ageing or amortisation in the WAGR is not as robust as the SPWAR. The ‘Power Method’ belatedly introduced ageing to the WAGR in 2020 but this is only applied after 12 months with points wasted daily over the remaining year of their life. In the SPWAR points have always held good for 30 days, then aged daily to 80% after 90 days, then aged in equal daily increments before being lost completely after two years.

2. The WAGR methodology is too complicated with Divisors the main culprit. The Divisor has seen players with few competitive results quickly become over ranked when the minimum has been achieved and worse still deliberately not playing to protect their inflated positions thereafter. The SPWAR is easier to follow with points simply allocated and aged over time. I do accept there is a lack of transparency around individual points from each event in the SPWAR as Mr. Soloman seeks to protect his exact ranking methodology.

3. The WAGR’s treatment of team matches is another key weakness in their ranking. The WAGR simply gives everyone the same ‘Participation Points’ for turning up to a team match regardless of the result and individual performances. Far more sensibly the SPWAR only awards points to those players who have contributed positively to the outcome of the match. Wins are weighted in favour of singles (+/- 2) over fourballs and foursomes (+/- 1) and then at the end of the match the total points won by each player are used to determine their SPWAR points allocation, if any.

WAGR Logo

4. The WAGR covers significantly fewer events than the SPWAR (2,950 v. 4,500 p.a.) and as a result is including fewer players (6,600 v. 17,600) and not tracking them as accurately. An obvious omission in the WAGR are all of the Qualifying Schools for the professional tours which are normally played over a minimum of 72 holes.

5. The WAGR are generally slower to remove new pros from their list, albeit they do seem to have improved since their new website was launched in June 2018. This is of course critical to the accuracy of any amateur ranking. Between September and February each year this takes time and means the players, the various qualifying schools and satellite tours need to be followed closely. In my view the SPWAR has historically dealt with amateurs turning pro far more quickly thus maintaining the robustness of it’s listing.

6. The WAGR is strict on only including minimum 54-hole stroke play competitions. Therefore it also ignores all 36-hole events. So if an amateur does well in say Final Qualifying for The Open or US Open Sectional Qualifying he doesn’t get rewarded by the WAGR for it. Amateur golf is varied and the SPWAR shows the necessary flexibility for such high profile competitions. Quickly looking through the player record of any member of the SPWAR’s Top 100 normally throws up a ‘short’ event entry where points have been earned. The WAGR’s approach has led to disparate 36 hole events pairing up to try and circumvent this rule and achieve WAGR recognition.

7. Weekly announcements may be acceptable in the pro game where virtually every tournament finishes on a Sunday but in the amateur game it is anything but. Competitions finish on every day of the week. The WAGR is released at 12 noon every Wednesday, the weekly update including events that finish up to and including the previous Sunday. Therefore if an event finishes on a Monday we have to wait nine days for it to be reflected in the WAGR. Mr. Solomon normally updates his SPWAR for all significant events within 24 hours, often within a few minutes of the final scores being posted. Smaller competitions are sometimes prioritised as less urgent, particularly in the busier summer season, but nearly always make it in before the WAGR update.

8. I often look at the WAGR and think ‘that ranking doesn’t look right’. I have never looked at the SPWAR and questioned a ranking – the list just makes sense – and I rarely hear it criticised. If you look down both lists you will find some glaring ranking differences. In my opinion they always favour the SPWAR when assessed objectively (and can be explained by one of the weaknesses listed above).

I know amateur rankings aren’t a major priority for either The R&A or the USGA but for people that play and follow amateur golf they are important.

For me, too many people are quoting and using the WAGR without understanding how flawed it really is. I am now increasingly ignoring the WAGR and just concentrating on the SPWAR.

In their September 2018 new strategic playbook The R&A stated they wish to ‘promote WAGR as the definitive world ranking in the amateur sport’. The January 2020 ‘Power Method’ update is a positive step forward in this regard but let’s be clear the WAGR is still second best to the SPWAR.

_________________________________________________

APPENDIX: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AMATEUR RANKINGS

The World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) was launched on 23rd January 2007. It was established by David Moir, a member of staff in The R&A’s entries department.

Its origins lie in the handicap balloting out of the reigning Australian Amateur champion, Andrew Martin, at the 2004 Amateur Championship. It was clear that because of different handicapping systems around the world the adoption of lowest handicap as the primary entry criteria was no longer appropriate. A new approach or safety net was needed to ensure that such errors were not made again and that playing fields were always at their strongest.

Andy McDonald took over from Mr. Moir in 2008 and headed up the team within R&A Championships Ltd that manages he WAGR until late 2017 when he retired. Ian Scott replaced him. The 2014 Golfer’s Handbook said a team of five people work on the WAGR (men’s and women’s).

2011 was an important year for the WAGR. It started to produce a Women’s ranking but more importantly gained the endorsement of the USGA, giving it credibility around the world.

On 21st June 2018 the WAGR updated its website introducing some new features.

In 1999 Fred Solomon, a scratch golfer and pensions executive from San Francisco, established the Scratch Players Group with some friends. They planned to create a tour for elite golfers, amateur and pro, providing assistance with hosting tournaments ambitiously around the world.

In 2002 Mr. Solomon started to contemplate putting together a world amateur ranking to support their work. However, it was not until February 2004 that work started on the Scratch Players World Amateur Ranking (SPWAR).

After compiling and testing his list in 2005 and 2006 Mr. Solomon launched the SPWAR on the internet on 13th January 2007. This was 10 days before the WAGR so was the first to be released.

Mr. Solomon sought to gain the buy in of the USGA to his ranking which quickly became popular with event organisers in the United States. To his disappointment, but presumably not surprise, after some delay the USGA decided to endorse the WAGR at their annual meeting in February 2011. Mr. Solomon argues that the SPWAR was superior at all times prior to, at the time of and since this decision was made.

Fred Solomon continues to work on the SPWAR alone and with out recompense. His only reward being that the “Gold Standard”, as he calls it, male-only SPWAR is generally accepted as being superior to the WAGR. Despite the USGA’s support interestingly virtually all of the non-USGA events in the USA use the SPWAR exclusively or as their dominant entry criteria ranking.

ME.

Copyright © 2016-20, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

7 thoughts on “Why The SPWAR Is Better Than The WAGR

  1. Hi Mark

    As usual, a thoroughly well-thought out article! I have long been critical of WAGR for many of the same reasons as you.

    1. They are amateur rankings. Why do they include professional events?

    2. If they do include professional events, then only include ones for which the player qualified (not invited). Jon Rahm is only number one in the world because of a good performance in a professional event to which he was invited.

    3. The way they treat injuries and WDs is inconsistent. As an example, at the 2014 Berkshire Trophy, Henry hurt his back in the first round. He played on when he probably shouldn’t have, and finished the first round. He was not able to start the second round. He earned 5 WAGR points with a divisor of one, which dropped him significantly in WAGR. If he had WD’ed mid-round, he would not have been awarded any points or divisors, so would have not have gone down in the rankings. He was penalized for gutting it out and doing the right thing.

    4. Players who miss the cut earn more average points than those who make the cut but do not play well in the final one or two rounds. This happens all the time. As an example, look at the 2015 Scottish Am (Carrick). It is ridiculous.

    5. Handling of DQs in inconsistent with the rules of golf. In the 2015 OFCC Fighting Illini Invite, Hurly Long was DQ’ed in the second round. In any tournament other than a college event, he would have been on his way home. However, he was allowed to play the final round and earned more average points than some players who completed all three rounds.

    6. The whole representation points with no divisor deal is ridiculous. Henry worked out that if he had the same number of representation points as his good buddy Sean Towndrow, he would be above him in WAGR. Henry lives in the US and plays college golf, so the opportunities are inconsistent. Please note that this is not a knock on Sean! We love the guy and Henry plays practice rounds with him whenever he can. It is a knock on the system. US players simply do not have the same opportunities as some Europeans, who play multiple representation matches and as such earn large numbers of representation points with any divisor.

    Please keep up the good work!

    Simon Todd

    PS – in case you were following him this past weekend, Henry was sick as a dog in Hawaii. He did brilliantly to even finish even though his scores were not good.

    • Amateurs play in all kinds of events and it is irrelevant how they got in whatever event in terms of where they rank in an accurate ranking of amateurs. If an amateur gets a sponsor’s exemption into a PGA Tour, European Tour or any other tour’s event, such player still needs to have a finish “of note” to get points. To arbitrarily exclude an amateur finish because it is in a pro event would pollute the accuracy of any credible amateur ranking.

  2. Just one other quick point, Mark, in case you ever doubted the importance of the WAGR rankings beyond those of us simply interested in amateur golf. Earlier today Henry received an email from a golf manufacturer talking about if he turns professional in the summer. They said that any up front bonus payment would be based on his WAGR ranking in the summer. All these inconsistencies hurt, and can hurt a player financially too. Simon.

    • Thanks again Simon. I thought about this point but forgot to mention it. It is inevitable that management companies and golfing businesses will be making potentially inaccurate commercial decisions based on the WAGR. Mark.

  3. Great post. Very educational for someone who doesn’t follow the rankings that closely. Interesting that WAGR grew out of lack of world wide handicap system. According to what we are hearing in Canada, discussions are underway on a unified world wide handicap system.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read it Aaron. The problem with handicaps over here in the UK is we don’t have a slope system. We all play on different courses so one elite youngster competing regularly on an ‘easy’ course may have a +3 handicap whereas another playing on an Open Championship venue has a -1. The latter will be the better player but not in the eyes of many tournament organisers considering entries. Mark.

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