Heat Check

In a week where we lost one of the transcendent, great figures in sports, I am reminded of what it meant to shout “Kobe” in anything you did. Pickup games, throwing away a tissue, changing a diaper, it didn’t matter. You shout his name and it was synonymous with clutch. Kobe Bryant was a walking heat check every time he played.

Transitioning to golf, what defines a hot golfer? Simply winning one week is too small of a sample size. We can’t say, for sure, that Marc Leishman is “hot” right now. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but one week does not a trend make in golf. Three months? Six months? Ten starts? Twenty?

This has come to the front of my mind because of how we treat Jon Rahm right now. I listed some of the numbers in the video above:

  • +2.68 SG: Total in 15 starts dating back to the U.S. Open
  • 380-11 head-to-head in his last five worldwide starts

The only publicly recognized method we have for measuring golfers worldwide right now is the Official World Golf Ranking. That’s a two-year, sliding scale based on field strength. In it, Rahm is No. 3 in the world. But what if we picked our own beginning to this? Go back to the U.S. Open last year. If you started the ranking then, provided for the same diminishing value as presently used in the OWGR, this is what the world rankings would look like in that span of time:

  1. Jon Rahm – 20.25 avg. points
  2. Rory McIlroy – 16.95
  3. Justin Thomas – 16.02
  4. Brooks Koepka – 14.06
  5. Tiger Woods – 12.93

Rahm gets a bump up two spots and is the clear Alpha of the sport. There is some moderate shuffling behind, but it gives you a clear view of who the “hottest” player in the game is.

Of course, this exercise has bias flaws in it. Why settle on the U.S. Open? Go back one week earlier, and Rory’s win in Canada significantly closes the gap to first. Add 3 more weeks in and Koepka’s PGA win, not to mention a solid run from Patrick Cantlay dramatically shifts the list above.

The point isn’t to be “right” about who is deserving of Number One, it’s to lend perspective to the current state of talent we are watching in the game. If you had to ask me who the best player in golf is right now – January 28, 2020 – it is Jon Rahm, and I won’t hesitate.

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