Betting on Golf: The Basics
This year’s PGA Tour is going to be pressure-packed. The FedEx Cup will be contested through early September and the three U.S. majors in 2020 will be held late in the season. The best golfers, like RBC Heritage winner Webb Simpson (l.), will give their all, so how can a new bettor take advantage? Here’s how to get started.
Now that the PGA Tour has resumed—and it’s really the only game in town for a while—bettors who ignored golf for other major sports are beginning to realize that there are some great opportunities on the links.
So let’s do a little recap on how to bet golf, and what to look for when you pick the players.
Types of Bets
Usually, the first thing you see on a sports betting app is the odds on individual players to win the tournament. If they look like a guaranteed gold mine, remember, you’re betting against at least 100 players, so even the favorite is going to be a double-digit underdog.
At last week’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, the favorites to win were Rory McElroy and Bryson DeChambeau at 15-1 each—and we know how that turned out. The winner, Webb Simpson (abv.), went off at 28-1.
But if you’re a fan of longshots, you can win big if you get lucky. What defines a longshot? Usually it’s a +5000 player or a 50-1 underdog. Every week, there are a lot of them, and we’ll talk later about how to find them.
Another popular bet is head-to-head. These are bets put together by the bookmaker, matching two players. One is usually better than the other, so it’s often not a 50-50 proposition. At last week’s Heritage again, you could pick two popular, hot players. One is estimated to be a little better, therefore predicted to finish with a better score than the other (Jon Rahm, at even money, versus DeChambeau at -120). If you have a player or players you follow, check out the matchups. They might be attractive enough for you to take a chance on them.
While most online sportsbooks offer wagers on the first sets of bets we’ve mentioned here, you may have to search a bit to find the following bets, which are often even more fun than those. You might try PointsBet, which has a robust section on betting golf.
- Prop bets are a thing in golf as well. Who will lead after the first round? Over-unders on first round scores. Will Phil Mickelson make the cut? Who will be top American/English/Spanish player at a specific tournament? Will there be a hole-in-one? There can be dozens of others, but you’ll probably have to wait for one of the majors to get a real good menu of prop bets.
- Group betting gives you a chance to bet on the winner, although the payoff will be much less. Sports books may put together three or more players, and the bettor will decide if any one of those players might win the tournament. If one of them does, you cash your ticket. But again, a rare sports book offers this kind of betting.
- And finally, there are futures bets. This type of bet can be as simple as who will win the Masters this year (in November!). Or you can bet on whether Tiger Woods will win a major in 2021. Once again, choose your sports betting app very selectively if you want these kinds of golf bets.
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We haven’t seen any American sportsbook using in-running or in-play betting on golf yet, but you can be sure it’s coming. Can you imagine betting on Dustin Johnson in the 2016 U.S. Open? He entered the final round four strokes back and was chasing down Shane Lowry in a driving rain. But he was so hot he finished three strokes ahead of the field.
Someday soon, you’ll be able to bet on individual shots. Will a golfer hit the ball within 10 feet of the cup on a par-3? Will McElroy outdrive DeChambeau on a certain hole? Golf is perfect for in-play betting, because there’s so much time between shots. So setting odds is an almost leisurely activity compared to other fast moving sports like football or tennis.
As in any sport, the more work you do and the more you understand golf (and the pro golfers), the better chance you’ll have of picking a winner.
There are a bunch of players out on tour who hit the ball a mile. A 350-yard blast isn’t unusual for them. They’re sure to be among the favorites on courses that are long and have wide fairways. But a shorter course with tighter fairways will favor the top iron players—and there are some very good ones. So match the strength of your golfer to the course they’ll be playing, and you’ve got a head start.
Shot shapes are important too. Some players have a natural draw, which comes in handy on some of the dogleg holes, while others have a slice. These golfers know their shot shape and can adjust for it, but sometimes the course lays out for their natural shot shape. And there you have another contender.
And you know what they say, “You drive for show and you putt for dough”? Well, that’s got lots of good applications for betting on golf. You just can’t go wrong backing exceptional putters.
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Some golfers feel comfortable at a certain course. While Tiger Woods was a good bet on any course in his heyday, he had a few favorite courses that he crushed on the way to his 82 tour wins. He won the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill eight separate times. He liked the greats. Woods was also a winner at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament at Muirfield Village in Ohio five different times. But of course, his favorite—and probably most difficult—track was Augusta National, where he’s won five times, including his dramatic comeback win in 2019.
Of course, Woods is an anomaly, but some players definitely play better at certain courses. Whether those courses fit their game better or the players just feel more comfortable, you can’t ignore it.
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A “hot” player is always a good bet. Jordan Spieth was on fire for two full years before his recent struggles, at times he was so dominant, it felt like he was going to become the next Tiger Woods. For a shorter term, a player who’s finished four times in six weeks in the Top 10 might be ripe for a victory. So chart those finishes and you might be on to something.
And finally, the “intangibles” can be a gold mine for you hunch bettors. Is the player coming off an injury at a course he likes? Did a player lose a heartbreaking playoff at last year’s event? Does this mean he’s more motivated to win? Or maybe it’s a personal thing, like did he just get married or have a child? Those can be great incentives. All are quite subjective, but sometimes you can hit on an obscure motivational moment that’ll pay off.
And how about the winner of last week’s RBC Heritage as a fine example of “intangibles”? Webb Simpson, a father of five, won the tournament on Father’s Day. Making it a double intangible, he always wears his father’s favorite color shirt on Sunday, yellow.
So good luck and have fun betting golf in 2020.