Rookie award draws ire of Westwood

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
12:44
PM ET

Quick: Name the last three winners of the PGA Tour's annual Rookie of the Year award.

If the names Marc Leishman, Andres Romero and Brandt Snedeker don't immediately come to mind, you are forgiven. Each was a deserving winner, but when it comes to that compartment of your brain specifically employed for such record-keeping, their titles were likely forgotten before they were ever remembered.

That isn't the case for this year's top freshman. Saturday's announcement that Rickie Fowler earned the award has quickly turned into a lightning rod topic within the golf world, as the talented youngster defeated Quail Hollow Championship winner Rory McIlroy in a player vote that was received with much derision.

Not from the candidates, mind you. Prior to the announcement, Fowler told me, "I voted for Rory. I'm not going to vote for myself, I'll tell you that. That's just not who I am. He had a great year; he's definitely deserving." Meanwhile, McIlroy followed the decision by telling reporters at the Chevron World Challenge, "It's fine. Look, I really didn't want it. I'm not a rookie. … When I joined the PGA Tour, I was top-10 in the world. Rickie had an unbelievable year. He deserves it."

The ire didn't truly escalate until Monday morning, when world No. 1 Lee Westwood -- a Ryder Cup teammate of McIlroy -- tweeted his displeasure for the result.

"Just seen Ricky Fowler has been given rookie of the year!" Westwood wrote. "Yes he's had a good year but rory mcilroy 3rd in 2 majors and an absolute demolition of the field at quail hollow! Oh yes and on the winning Ryder cup team! Please! Is this yet another case of protectionism by the pga tour or are they so desperate to win something! Wouldn't have something to do with Rory not joining the tour next year? Maybe the PGA tour just employs the same voting process as FIFA! Come on, fairs fair!"

Simply check their results and you'll find two worthy candidates, either of whom would have defeated the competition in the last several years. McIlroy had one win to Fowler's zero and finished in third place at two majors; Fowler finished three spots higher on the money list and competed in a dozen more events.

While not a performance-based statistic, don't overlook the impact of those appearance numbers. PGA Tour end-of-season awards are voted upon by the membership rather than a points system, as used on the LPGA Tour. I spoke with a handful of current players who said that while Fowler was competing on a weekly basis, they'd never even seen McIlroy and therefore didn't feel it was right to vote for someone who seemed like a part-timer.

It shouldn't come as breaking news that fellow players don't exactly pore over the results when filling out their ballots. (When I asked Matt Kuchar after winning The Barclays whom he would vote for Player of the Year, he said, "I normally pass that aside. I try not to think about that. I let my wife or somebody else handle that for me.") So yes, these awards do become quasi popularity contests -- for better or worse.

Throw in the fact that McIlroy has already alienated himself from the PGA Tour by declaring his intention to give up full status for the upcoming season and many players felt they owned even more of a reason to vote against him.

While Westwood and others can't be blamed for stating their opinion of the result, their anger is displaced. When the PGA Tour gives its players sole responsibility for determining winners of these awards, it will always come with an asterisk, since -- much like college football or basketball coaches voting in a national poll for their sports -- they are more worried about their own games than those of their peers.

And to continue an annual favorite rant of mine: The PGA Tour should also provide vote totals for the awards. Did Fowler garner 90 percent of the vote or 51? Hey, revealing the percentages is good enough for elected government officials; it should be enough for the PGA Tour, too.

Just like those political positions, not everybody is going to agree with majority opinion, but they've got to live with it. If Westwood sees fit to cure the golf world of such future injustices, though, he only needs to do one thing to make his voice heard: join the PGA Tour. With membership, the No. 1-ranked player would be allowed to exercise his right to vote at the end of each year.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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