Golf betting is one of the most enjoyable and potentially profitable experiences available in the gambling market. It remains a somewhat niche sport and allows for a lot of flexibility depending on your betting preferences. There are a few different ways to place bets on professional golf. Unlike most sports which rely on point spreads, money lines, and totals, golf provides us with a unique collection of betting styles.
What is futures betting
The most popular wager for golf is simply betting on a golfer to win a tournament, also known as futures. This is simple and easy to understand. Pick a golfer to win, place the bet, and hope they come through. For example, when Tiger Woods completed his memorable comeback to win the 2019 Masters, his odds were +1400 to win. A $100 bet would have paid out $1400. This seems like a profitable wager type but, with over 150 golfers in the field each week, it can obviously be difficult to predict the eventual winner.
Every golfer will have odds placed for them at the start of the week or year, with the favorites typically opening in the range of +800 to +1500. Long shots will typically be in the +5000 to +10000 range and even deeper. If a golfer in this range wins outright it can fund the rest of a season of gambling, although the long shots are typically 100/1 for a reason.
Futures betting comes in a couple of different forms. Most futures wagering occurs the week before any given tournament. Sportsbooks will release odds on Sunday night or Monday morning for the tournament starting that Thursday. This allows for a few days of research and line movement prior to the start of the tournament.
The other form of futures wagering is placing a bet on a tournament that is to be played in several months or even at the end of the year, sometimes referred to as long-term futures. In most cases, the only tournaments that offer these types of wagers are the four majors – The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open, The Open Championship) – plus The Player’s Championship, The Ryder Cup, and The Fed Ex Cup.
How to bet on futures
There are several factors to consider when determining which golfers to back when placing future wagers. The most common trends to look for are course history, current form, and relevant stats.
Know the course
Whether it is a weekly or long-term wager, understanding the course layout is paramount. In most sports, it is one team against the other. In golf, it is more so the golfer against the course. Every course is different and all come with their own set of obstacles for the golfers to navigate. Some courses are long, some are short. Some courses have narrow tree lines while some are more wide open. Some courses have small greens and some have large greens. Doing a simple overview of each course can help begin to narrow down the field of over 150 golfers to a more manageable group by identifying a few key stats. Detailed summaries of courses can be found on the PGA Tour official website or the site for each specific course.
The first important course condition is length. All golfers drive the ball a different length and this can be a crucial stat depending on the course. According to the United States Golf Association, the average length of a professional golf course is roughly 7,300 yards. This gives us a good starting point when determining what type of golfer may have success at a specific course. Augusta National, which is the annual host to The Masters, is almost 7,500 yards in length. Based off this stat alone, driving distance may be an important factor to take into account when betting on The Masters. We’ll touch more on this tournament later on.
There are a few different stats to consider when looking at driving. First would be driving distance. This is straightforward enough, assessing how far any given golfer drives the ball. Driving distance has greatly increased over the past decade. According to pga.com, in 1997 the average golfer drove the ball 270 yards. In 2020, the average driving distance is 295 yards. Using the average of roughly 300 yards, we can determine whether a golfer is long off the tee or short. The chart below shows the four golfers currently leading the PGA Tour in driving distance.
|Average Driving Distance|
Of course, there is another vital aspect to driving the ball. Finding the fairway, regardless of distance, is often more important than how far a golfer can hit the ball. Typically speaking, shorter drivers are more accurate than their longer counterparts. Jim Furyk has been a professional golfer on the PGA Tour for almost 30 years. He is still able to compete at the age of 50 due to his accuracy off the tee. He currently ranks as the #1 golfer on tour in driving accuracy, but he is 223rd in distance.
These two driving metrics can be combined into one using the golf stat Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. This is a very useful stat that combines distance and accuracy and measures the all-around best drivers of the ball.
Another course condition to look at is what type of grass is grown for the putting greens. It may not seem like the grass type would have a major impact on the performance of a golfer but, when looking closer, you can notice some drastic differences from surface to surface. The three main grass types are:
· Poa Annua (Poa)
Jordan Spieth is a popular young golfer on the PGA Tour. He is known as one of the best putters in the world. According to the PGA Tour official website, Spieth ranked 2nd on tour throughout the 2019 season in Strokes Gained: Putting. But if courses are filtered to show only the greens grown with Bermuda grass, Jordan Spieth becomes the 80th ranked golfer on tour. This attention to detail is a great way to identify courses that may be a strong or poor fit for specific golfers.
When looking at the chart below, we can see the percentage of putts made at different lengths are far superior on one surface than on the others for Jordan Spieth.
|Jordan Spieth Putting|
Course History vs Current Form
An ongoing debate in the golf betting world is the importance of course history and current form. For all the reasons mentioned above, golfers will have more success on certain courses than others. Bubba Watson, for instance, seems to have a good eye for the Los Angeles based course, Riviera. The three wins he has at that course account for 25% of his overall wins on the PGA Tour. Even if Watson is not in good form leading up to that tournament, he may still be a golfer bettors would consider based on his course history.
The counter argument to course history is current form. If a golfer has finished in the top ten four weeks in a row, they may have found something in their game and be primed for a string of high finishes. Regardless of the course, betting on a streaking golfer can be a successful approach. In the NBA this is often referred to as having a “hot hand.”
The question comes down to how much weight is worth allocating to course history versus current form. What if a golfer has never missed a cut on a specific course but has missed the cut in his past five events played? What if a golfer is in good form but has never won at the upcoming course? It is all part of the equation when trying to handicap golf. I tend to put more importance on current form but there are arguments to be made for both.
The Masters and The Open Championship are the two most popular golf tournaments in the world. They receive the most action from a betting perspective and have their odds released the earliest. This allows for significant line movement and, in return, provides the most edge to be had when placing long-term futures. For example, earlier in the year there were a lot of questions regarding the health of Brooks Koepka. He had battled a serious knee injury and, for a while, looked as though he may miss a long portion of the season. Around this time, the preliminary odds for The Masters were released and he was +1600, even though he is a four-time major champion. Where we stand today, Brooks Koepka is down to +1000 to win. Every tournament he has played in since the injury has shown more and more recovery and this continues to garner more wagers placed on his long-term futures.
Course history is more important at The Masters than arguably anywhere else. The experience needed to navigate around the course makes it difficult for first-time golfers to be competitive. Actually, in the history of The Masters dating back to 1934, only three golfers have won in their first appearance, and two of those were the first two Masters tournaments to be played.
Unlike the US Open and The Open Championship (often referred to as The British Open), The Masters is played at the same course every year – Augusta National. This obviously leads to odds being adjusted based on course history and can ultimately lead to a great edge when placing long-term futures. Jordan Spieth – the putting specialist mentioned above – has been off to a shaky start in the 2020 PGA Tour season. For someone who was recently contending with the world’s #1 ranking, his finishes this season have been rather disappointing. Due to this decline, he is currently +2000 to win The Masters. If you are ever looking for an example of positive course history, look no further than Jordan Spieth and August National. In his six years at the tournament, he has finished no worse than 21st including a win and two runner-ups.
This course history is good enough to overrule his recent form. His current odds of 20/1 could be looked at as a huge value and, if he begins to turn his game around this summer, those odds will drop significantly.
Getting the best odds on long-term futures
Long-term future wagering can be a great way for bettors to “invest” in a golfer they believe will have a successful year. The examples above – for Brooks Koepka battling an early season injury and Jordan Spieth’s current form – are two ways to look at this investing approach. Finding a golfer primed for a breakout season is often another. For example, at the start of 2020, Webb Simpson was +5500 to win the US Open. Since that line was set, he has won the Waste Management Open and his odds to win the US Open have moved down to +4100. Following trends and line movement throughout the season can lead to a big edge when looking for long-term futures to place.
Future odds can also be impacted based on the popularity of a golfer and not always their current performance level. Rickie Fowler is one of the most popular golfers on tour and usually garners a decent amount of bets, which tends to lower his odds, but he has only won on the PGA Tour five times in his 11 year career and has never won a major championship. He also has only two top ten finishes in his past eleven starts.
The other end of this spectrum can be true as well. If a golfer is disliked throughout the industry, his odds can typically be more favorable when compared to his ability. Take Patrick Reed for instance. He garnered quite a bit of controversy in the golf world when he was accused of cheating earlier this season. Although he is not the most popular guy on tour, it is difficult to argue with his results. He has finished inside the top ten in six of the past nine tournaments he has entered, including a win at a World Golf Championship event.
Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler are both currently +2800 to win The Masters.
Other types of golf wagers
Although it can be fun and sometimes very profitable to bet on golf futures, it is not too easy to predict one winner out of 165 golfers. For this reason, there are a few other types of wagers that can be placed on the PGA Tour that are often easier to win.
Since it is incredibly difficult to predict the outright winner of a golf tournament, “place bets” are a good approach to take, and tend to be more successful over time. Instead of selecting a golfer to win outright, most sports books will allow bets to be placed on top-5, top-10, and even top-20 finishes. While the payouts are much lower, betting on a golfer to finish inside the top-20 at +120 instead of betting them outright at +5000 can be a much more profitable approach over time. A top-5 bet will often have ¼ the odds of the future to-win bet. I will often place a top-5 bet on golfers I’m also betting to win outright, in order to at least win something with a runner up finish.
Matchups or Head-to-Heads
This is a great place to start out if you are new to golf betting. With this betting approach, you are trying to determine between two golfers which will finish higher in the final standings at the end of the tournament or specified round. Betting on matchups is the same concept as betting on two NFL teams playing each other. For example, if the two favorites entering a tournament are Rory McIlroy and John Rahm, a sportsbook may place odds that look like the following:
|Thurs||Rory McIlroy (tourn)||-125|
|8:40am||Jon Rahm (tourn)||+105|
|Thurs||Rory McIlroy (1st round)||-120|
|8:40am||Jon Rahm (1st round)||+100|
Matchups can be placed on the four-day tournament or just for an individual round. You can see in the example above that Rory is a -125 favorite over John Rahm throughout the whole event and a -120 favorite for just the first round. If the two golfers finish the round or tournament tied, the bettor would lose either wager placed. Results of full tournament head-to-heads can be decided even before the end of Sunday’s round. If the golfer you bet makes the cut and the other does not, this bet is typically paid out at the end of Friday’s round, regardless of how your selected golfer ends up faring over the entire weekend.
In our example laid out above, betting Rory McIlroy to beat John Ram over four days would profit $100 off a $125 bet. If a bettor who’s just getting started in golf only knows of a few golfers, this can be a great way to still find some fun wagers. For example, Phil Mickelson versus Tiger Woods may be a head-to-head bet that someone would be able to place.
Placing futures on golf has everything that any bettor would want out of a sport. There are edges and advantages to be had, and understanding the golfers and courses is where any new gambler needs to start. Consuming content is crucial and fortunately there is no shortage of data available when it comes to player stats and course conditions. Whether you want to research line movement to find value over time or simply place a bet on your favorite golfer to win, gambling on golf offers an experience that makes a four-day tournament a lot more enjoyable to watch.