The top-ranked golfer on the PGA Champions Tour is not Bernhard Langer, who won the Schwab Cup for the fourth time in five years. It’s not Vijay Singh, who won three times in 2018, including the season-ending Schwab Cup Championship.
It’s not Miguel Angel Jimenez or Scott McCarron, both of whom piled up 13 top-10 finishes.
The top-ranked senior golfer is …
… Steve Stricker.
Yes, even though Stricker played in just seven Champions tour events this year (and one since June), and even though he finished 13th on the money list and 15th on the Schwab Cup points list, the Madison golfer is No. 1 in the season-ending Power Performance Rankings compiled by Kathy Bissell.
There is no “official” world ranking for senior players and the PGA Tour Champions does not recognize the Power Performance Rankings, though it is the only such ranking and Bissell has been compiling it for 18 years (www.seniorgolfrankings.com).
Stricker finished the 2018 season with 33.67 points, with Jimenez in second place (26.63) and Langer in third (25.03). Jerry Kelly of Madison was seventh in the final ranking (23.26).
The ranking is based on a player’s 12-month performance, with points assigned based on tournament finishes. A victory is worth 35 points, a runner-up finish is worth 29, third place is worth 28, fourth is worth 27 and so on. Players must finish 30th or better to earn points for that tournament.
The ranking, then, reflects a player’s average finish. Though Stricker teed it up only seven times, he was a three-time winner and finished runner-up twice. His lowest finish was a tie for fifth.
“In total points, Bernhard Langer leads by far because he plays the most and has high finishes,” Bissell said. “Stricker is No. 1 because every time he played, he played well. Some guys finish an average of 15th over the course of a season. He finished a lot higher than that.”
Should Stricker commit to playing more events in 2019 and throws in a couple 12th-place finishes and one or two out of the top 20, his average will drop. The ranking reflects who plays consistently well rather than who earns the most money or Schwab Cup points.
Bissell started compiling the ranking in 2001, after she listened to Hale Irwin complain that the top players on the then-Senior tour were good enough to compete on the PGA Tour but lacked a ranking system similar to the Official World Golf Ranking.
“Hale felt that certainly the top five on the Champions tour were competitive enough that they could play in PGA Tour events,” Bissell said. “We’ve seen it with Bernhard Langer contending at the Masters. We’ve seen it with Fred Couples in Los Angeles and at the Masters. We’ve seen it with Tom Watson almost winning the British Open at 59.
“I thought, ‘Let me screw around with this for a while and see if I can come up with something that might work.’”
It takes Bissell a couple hours to compile the points after a tournament and she then posts them on the website. She only compiles points from PGA Tour Champions events and the Senior British Open. Points in majors are worth 50 percent more than points in regular events.
“I’m not going to look for the senior tour in Bangladesh,” she said. “If a guy finishes in the top 30 on the PGA Tour Champions then I count him. If they’re playing on an over-50 circuit somewhere else in the world, I don’t count them except for the Senior British Open.”
She had one preliminary discussion with the PGA Tour about the Tour possibly endorsing her ranking or partnering with her, but nothing came of it.
“The smart thing would have been to offer me a little bit of money to give it to them,” Bissell said, “but they didn’t do that.”
She said she’ll continue to compile the Power Performance Rankings indefinitely.
“I’m not getting tired of doing it,” she said. “But if somebody wanted to offer me a little bit of money, I would (sell) it.”