Inaugural Player Impact roster creates many more questions than answers
ORLANDO, Fla. — At last week’s mandatory meeting at PGA National, players were told that the better they performed on the course, the higher they’d climb on the Player Impact Program’s newly created and wildly esoteric roster.
But the final product, which was released Wednesday, strongly suggests otherwise.
At the top of the list, to no one’s surprise, was Tiger Woods. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t fired an “official” shot in 2021 or that he’s remained largely hidden behind the walls of his gated community since a horrific car crash in late February. Despite his inactivity and isolation, nearly everyone at last week’s meeting agreed that Woods, the engine that has powered golf for the past two decades, deserves every one of those $8 million he has. received for winning the PIP.
Some, however, see a program awash in secrecy and convoluted formulas – the PIP score is compiled from five criteria, Nielsen ratings, Google searches, MVP index, Meltwater endorsements and Q rating – which does not has little to do with a player’s performance on the course.
“I was floored when I saw that,” one player told Bay Hill early Wednesday. “They [the Tour] told us that the better you played, the better your ranking, but check out this list.
Beyond Woods – and Phil Mickelson at No. 2 in the PIP after declaring a victory far too early in December, but that’s a chronicle for another day – the list includes Rory McIlroy (third), Jordan Spieth (fourth), Bryson DeChambeau (fifth), Justin Thomas (sixth), Dustin Johnson (seventh), Brooks Koepka (eighth), Jon Rahm (ninth) and Bubba Watson (10th).
Three top-10 players didn’t win a Tour event in the PIP window, which ran from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 — Woods, Johnson and Watson — and Watson wasn’t particularly competitive in 21. Although though he had three top-10 finishes in the calendar year, one of them (T-8 at the Zurich Classic) was a team event and he was never in serious contention. He didn’t even qualify for the last two playoff events.
But Watson seems to tick all the right boxes on social media with a Twitter account of 1.8 million followers and he published a book, “Up and Down,” in the fall.
By comparison, Patrick Cantlay has made it clear he has no interest in social media (his Twitter account has just 32,000 followers) and yet won three times in 21, was voted Tour player of the year and became one of the most outspoken players on a wide range of topics. He was not in the top 10 on the final PIP list.
In an email to players, the Tour explained how each PIP score was compiled using these five categories. “Cumulative data for each metric is collected and aggregated” and “raw data for each category is checked and normalized”.
Some, like McIlroy who is one of four player managers on the board, seem to have a good grasp of what exactly this all means.
“You look at the 10 guys that are there, and those are the 10 guys that have been at the top of the game or have been at the top of the game for a long time,” McIlroy said. “Everyone has seen the five metrics associated with it and how each ranked in those metrics. I feel like it’s a pretty self-explanatory system.
But breaking down each category creates a whole new set of questions. Woods ranked first on the Tour in Google searches, Meltwater Mentions and eighth in Q-Score. He ranked 43rd in the Nielsen Rankings, which is the only category that can be directly tied to a player’s performance on the course, for an overall score of 0.9664. Mickelson’s overall score was 0.9307, 0.0273 better than McIlroy in third.
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Slightly less surprisingly, Watson’s position on the list was Johnson at No. 7. The former world No. 1 has 873,000 Twitter followers and isn’t particularly active on social media other than the ubiquitous sponsor and tournament support. Also, by his own high standards, he hasn’t had a great season, going winless in a calendar year for the first time since 2014.
Johnson finished top in Meltwater Mentions, which is based on a player’s “earned media” or “number of unique news articles that include a player’s name”, and finished fifth on the circuit. but finished 22nd to Nielsen, which was the third lowest Nielsen score. among the top 10.
Le Tour explained that the “negative” press would be excluded from the PIP equation, but what is defined as “negative” remains a moving target. Was Woods’ car accident in February and the blanket monsoon it generated part of the algorithm? What about DeChambeau and Koepka’s high-profile social media spat that dominated headlines throughout the summer?
Woods’ status as a social and traditional media centerpiece remains unchallenged in golf and even Mickelson, who has come under fire in recent weeks for his criticism of both the Tour and the Saudi-backed super league, is still among the top influencers in the game, but the inaugural PIP list creates many more questions than answers.
The program was created to reward the stars of the game and there has always been an impressive level of support for this concept. As to how, exactly, this should be done is not so clear.