2020 US Open Championship golf betting preview

Often regarded as the hardest major to win, the US Open Championship is one of golf’s premier events.

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The US Open Championship is one of golf’s premier events. Often regarded as the hardest major to win, due in large part to the USGA’s challenging course setups, the tournament usually features an eclectic field of top players and a handful of unknowns who have played their way into the event through local qualifying. In a normal year, the open qualifying procedure would allow anyone with a USGA Handicap Index of 1.4 or lower to try to gain entry, but this year the event will feature a fully exempt field due to ongoing issues with Covid-19, meaning no qualifiers will take place.

The 2020 US Open’s date has also been pushed back due to the pandemic and will now take place from September 17th-20th at its originally scheduled site – Winged Foot Country Club in Mamaroneck, New York. The event was last played there in 2006 and featured a +5 winning score by eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy. This stands as the highest winning score at a US Open since 1974. 

How to bet on the 2020 US Open

As the event approaches, a wider variety of betting markets will become available, but for now our focus will be on the US Open odds in the outright winner futures market. Betting future outrights on sportsbooks can be profitable, since we can often get access to better or higher odds on certain players than will become available the week of the event. If you think a player is starting to round into form, or just has a great shot at competing for the title this year, placing a bet early lets you lock in his current odds, which could easily drop if the player goes through a hot stretch leading up to the US Open. Last year, those who placed a future on eventual champion Gary Woodland at the beginning of the 2019 season struck gold, as the American was available anywhere from +10000 to +150000 at various sportsbooks around January 1st, and ended up going off at +8000 the week of the event

For a more detailed explanation of exactly what a futures bet is, check out my 2020 Masters preview, which goes into a bit more detail and provides examples of how betting futures in the outright market on the PGA Tour – as opposed to waiting for the week of the event to bet – can be profitable.

When to place US Open futures

Players’ outright betting odds will fluctuate in the futures market as we get closer to the event, generally due to performance. Our goal with futures is not only picking golfers who we think have a great shot at winning the event this year, but who also have odds that look like they may end up getting cut – meaning go down in price – by the time we reach the week of the event. For the US Open, with the event now less than three months away, targeting golfers who might be ready to start putting up some solid results soon becomes critical when assessing who to wager on.

Since regular play has resumed, we have already seen some dramatic line movement on players in the futures market. Webb Simpson’s US Open outright odds moved from around +5000 to +4500 to just +3300 to +2500 at most sportsbooks following his RBC Heritage win. Bryson DeChambeau has been another mover as he’s dropped into the +1600 to +2000 range after being available at +2500 or better shortly before the break. On the other end of the spectrum, Rickie Fowler – who missed his first two cuts coming off the break – has seen his price rise from +3300 to as high as +5000 in some places. 

While we don’t want to let past prices dictate who we bet now, where the players are today odds-wise – and where they were last week/month/year – is something to keep in mind before we dive into the actual event.

Jun 12, 2017; Erin, WI, USA; Detail view of the top of the US Open Championship Trophy seen in the Lexus fan experience during the opening practice round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

Identifying a 2020 US Open winner

Like the Masters, the US Open Championship does have some indicators and trends we can use to help us in identifying a potential winner. While the US Open is played at a rotation of different courses every season, the set-up for the event is done by the USGA every year, and they have been consistent in trying to ensure the winning score doesn’t venture much past par (if at all), sometimes to the detriment of the event.

One of the most controversial elements of the US Open setup is the speed of the greens. There have been numerous instances where the USGA has made greens so fast, the course has become almost unplayable. This has led to some creative protests by players in-tournament, with the most recent coming from Phil Mickelson in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills, when he chose to putt his ball while it was still in motion rather than wait for it to fall off the green. 

Thicker rough and a longer setup is also a style common to most US Open venues, where setups will have a higher than normal cut of primary rough. The goal here is to more severely penalize off-centre tee shots and make reaching the green in regulation almost impossible. Lengthy courses have also been more of a trend by the USGA – especially of late – as both Chambers Bay (2015) and Erin Hills (2017) measured over 7,600 yards.

While the tough conditions make life more challenging for the players, the good news for betting purposes is that with similar course setups in play every season, a few common characteristics among the past 5-10 winners have popped up. Below are a few to key in on when picking out betting targets. 

Big hitters

When you look at the winners of the US Open over the past five seasons, it becomes clear quite quickly that the biggest hitters in the game have dominated. In fact, over the past four seasons, the winner of this event hasn’t ranked below 13th in overall Driving Distance for the year of their win. Golfers like Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson – who have both ranked inside the top-10 in Driving Distance on the PGA the past three years – have come to be almost automatic contenders, with Koepka gaining two wins and a runner-up finish at this event the past three years. 

Whether it’s pure distance off the tee, extra power to be able to handle hitting out of thicker rough, or a high ball flight that enables them to better hold the lightning quick greens, length and power have played well at US Opens of late, and are essential to consider when looking at potential betting targets. 

Greens in Regulation

The power game is important, but a solid iron game that allows you to stay out of the greenside rough is almost as vital. Greens in Regulation is a simplistic stat that has played out pretty much the same at every US Open over the past decade. Since 2015, each winner of the US Open has ranked fifth or better in this stat for the week of their win, with both the first and second place players from last year – Gary Woodland and Brooks Koepka – finishing first and second in this stat. Whether you’d prefer to look at SG: Approach or Approach Proximity in your stat models, just remember that simply hitting a ton of greens has been a key component for virtually every recent winner. 

Recent form

While a player’s profile as a long hitter or supreme ball-striker is important, winners at this event have also tended to show great form prior to their win. Of the last 10 winners, only three had recorded wins on the season prior to their US Open victory, while eight of the last 10 had recorded four or more top-10 finishes in the same year prior to winning. 2019 Champion Gary Woodland is a great example of a golfer who was getting close before landing his big US Open win at Pebble Beach, as he’d recorded four top-10’s in 2019 – including a T8 finish at the PGA Championship and a runner-up finish at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii – prior to winning last year. 

Experience

Finally, with tougher than normal conditions and a course set-up that will be foreign to many, the experience factor at a US Open has proven to be quite important for past winners as well. Dating back 10 seasons, the winner of the US Open had recorded at least a top-25 (or better) in a previous version of the event. Even Jordan Spieth, the youngest winner of the US Open since Bobby Jones (1923) when he won at Chambers Bay in 2015, had recorded a T17 at the event the year before at Pinehurst. Last year’s champion Gary Woodland hadn’t recorded any finishes higher than T23 before his win, but he had played the event eight times prior.

Past champions

While there’s certainly no rhyme or reason to it, it’s worth noting that Americans have dominated this event of late. The past five winners have all been Americans, with Brooks Koepka leading the charge by winning in both 2017 and 2018. Before this last stretch though, European players had been hot at this event, winning four of five US Opens between 2010 and 2014. Martin Kaymer (2014 at Pinehurst #2) was the last non-American to win. 

US Open course preview

Winged Foot Golf Club

  • Par: 70, 7,477 yards
  • Greens: Bentgrass
  • Design: A. W. Tillinghast
  • Years as US Open host: 2006, 1984, 1974, 1959, 1929
  • Past Champion (Winged Foot): Geoff Ogilvy (2006)
  • Defending Event Champion: Gary Woodland (2019)

This year will mark Winged Foot’s sixth time as the host venue for the US Open and the first time it’s been played here since 2006. The venue traditionally plays as a Par 72 but will convert to a Par 70 for the event. When it last hosted the US Open, the venue played 200+ yards shorter than it will this year, with the winning score still coming in at 5-over Par. It was also the site of one of the biggest collapses in major championship golf as Phil Mickelson – looking for his first ever US Open win in 2006 – ended the event with a double bogey to ultimately finish second. Even with the evolution in technology, expect scoring to be high with another over Par winner looking very possible.

On top of being overly difficult, Winged Foot is also one of a handful of A.W. Tillinghast-designed courses along the East coast that include Bethpage Black (host of the 2019 PGA Championship and multiple US Opens) and Baltusrol (host of the 2016 PGA Championship). Like these venues, Winged Foot features a grueling design including multiple Par 4s that stretch over 450 yards – nine to be exact – and a Par 5 (one of only two on the course) that will likely play over 630 yards for the week.

Given the course setup and architecture, players who have had success at other Tillinghast designs in the past should enjoy a decent advantage here. Patrick Reed won the Barclays in 2016 at the previously mentioned Bethpage Black, and also won again last year at another New York venue – Liberty National. The American has finished inside the top-15 three times at a US Open, including a 4th-place finish in 2018.

2015 PGA Championship winner Jason Day is another golfer who may like this set-up. He finished second to eventual winner Jimmy Walker at the 2016 PGA Championship at Balstusrol and T4 at the 2016 Barclays – played at Beth Page Black. Day has recorded five top-10’s at the US Open in just nine attempts, but still has yet to win the event. 

Betting favorites to win the 2020 U.S. Open championship

The US Open has seen its fair share of shock winners, but recently the outrights have fallen to the favorites a little more often. Gary Woodland won while going off at +8000 or better here last season but, before him, Brooks Koepka took home the title at a pre-event price of +2500. Koepka’s price the year before gave bettors a better return as he was closer to +4000 in 2017. 

Dustin Johnson (2016) and Jordan Spieth (2015) were among the top-5 in terms of pre-event outrights as well, with Johnson going off around +1400 the week he won. All-in-all, majors of late have been dominated by elite players and a slightly larger group of players who were all clambering on the doorstep of being elite themselves. 

With this in mind it’s time to check back in on the favorites for this week and see where everyone stands in the odds department.

Dustin Johnson +760

Johnson comes into this event in the midst of an appallingly good stretch of form. The 36-year-old has two runner-up finishes and two victories in his last four starts, grabbing the year end Tour Championship and the 15-million dollar FedEx Cup bonus at the end of August. Despite putting better than he ever has in his career, leading the field in SG: Tee to Green stats over the last 24 rounds, and grabbing the number one player in the world title with authority, it’s still really hard to bet Dustin at this number. The betting favorite hasn’t taken a major title since 2014, when Rory McIlroy won the PGA Championship at Valhalla. 

Johnson has a terrific US open record that includes a win at Oakmont (2016), and runner-up finishes at Chambers Bay (2015) and Shinnecock Hills (2018) but is up against the deepest field of under 30-year-old talent the Tour has seen, perhaps ever. He’ll likely be in contention (again) but considering his overall major championship record and the record of betting favorites, overall, there’s better odds to chase.

Jon Rahm +885

Rahm gives us slightly better value and may actually benefit from being able to sit in DJ’s shadow this week as he takes most of the pre-event media glare. The Spaniard has shown he’s more than ready to win a big event the last couple of years, grabbing top-5 finishes at three of the last nine major championships–including a T3 at last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach. It may seem trivial, but he outdueled DJ in a playoff at Olympia Fields and has wins on the two toughest venues the players have seen thus far in 2020, so his confidence for the year’s second major should be at all time high. 

Rahm has now gained strokes Off the Tee in every single start in the PGA Tour in 2020 and also finished second in bogey avoidance on Tour in 2020. As an outright here there’s not much to dislike in his profile and his odds and chances this week appeal to me more than even the current favorite.

Justin Thomas +1250

Thomas did produce some better golf at the Tour Championship, posting a T2 finish there. Despite the second place bonus money he received at that event, Thomas was still underwhelming on the greens at East Lake, where he again lost over three-strokes putting to the field for the third time in four starts.

This will be his sixth US Open and he has just one top-10 at this event so far on his resume, a T9 from 2017 at Erin Hills which had the easiest conditions of any US Open in history. The bad news for JT is that the conditions this week will be on the complete opposite end of the spectrum with the winning score likely to be well over par for the week. With his game not quite clocking on all cylinders I don’t have much regret over missing out on him at this price. 

Rory McIlroy +1525

Rory has struggled since the restart and mentioned prior to the FedEx Cup finale that the arrival of his new daughter was weighing heavily on his mind and game. He had a few good moments at East Lake, one of his favorite venues on Tour, but also had his fair share of struggles there too.

The price on McIlroy has risen to where he should be considered for outright bets but from a statistical perspective he’s lagging well behind most of the elite names at the moment–sitting just 32nd in SG: Tee to Green stats over the last 24 rounds and 118th in around the greens stats. Waiting for his game to come around in November at Augusta is likely the best strategy for Rory fans this week. 

Xander Schauffele +1400

Schauffele has become the white whale of major championships and clear  favorite among the betting crowd. Schauffele’s stout record in big events is mostly to blame here, as he’s now gained top-5 finishes in all but one of the majors in just three years on Tour. Of all the majors, the US Open has also been his best by far:

Despite his consistency since the restart, which includes six top-20 finishes over his last eight starts, Schauffele’s price has been bet down to a place which has him punching out of his weight class. Other golfers with similar major championship records like Tony Finau and Tommy Fleetwood have odds at twice the price this week and simply make for better targets from a value perspective. 

Collin Morikawa +1600

There’s a better case for taking these kinds of shorter odds on Morikawa this week. We’ve seen young players like Jordan Spieth (2015) and Rory McIlroy (2014) win back-to-back majors in short turnarounds before and the 23-year-old Morikawa should set up beautifully for Winged Foot. He ranked 31st in Driving Accuracy last season and has improved his around the green game and putting by big margins the last few months. 

The form here looks promising too as Morikawa followed-up a missed cut at the Northern Trust (his first ever as a pro) with a T20 at the BMW Championship and a T6 at the Tour Championship where he was third in the field in SG: Approaches for the week. He should be heavily considered at this price. 

Tiger Woods +4400

Tiger comes in off a three week break from his last start at the BMW Championship where he struggled to a T51 finish. Tiger hasn’t posted anything better than a T37 at the PGA Championship in four appearances since he returned. The only good news here is that while he’s struggled immensely on the greens–losing over a stroke putting in three of his four starts–his irons have remained elite and he ranks 7th in SG:APP in the field over the last 24-rounds.

There’s no doubt that we’re getting better than normal odds on Tiger this week due to his recent downswing, but he likely makes for a better top-20 bet at +180, than an outright target.

Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)

Patrick Reed +3300 or better (each-way)

There’s few players that set up better for me here than Patrick Reed. Reed’s become a pro at handling tough conditions better than most everyone in his career on the PGA. He grabbed his first big win at the 7,481 yard Doral back in 2014, when conditions became so brutal that just three people were able to finish under par that week. He’s also grabbed wins at a past US Open venue in Beth Page Black and also clocked the best US Open finish of his career (T4) at the immensely tough Shinnecock Hills in 2018.

Reed has now made six straight cuts and he’s coming into this year’s event with little fanfare after posting his best career finish ever at the Tour Championship, where he landed in T7. The American led the field there in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee there and has been very consistent in that area of his game of late, gaining strokes OTT in seven straight starts. If Reed is finding fairways his ability to scramble and putt on tough greens will give him a chance this week, just as it did earlier in the year at WGC Mexico, when he gained +15-strokes around and on the greens for the week on some of the fastest Poa putting surfaces the players see all season. With how much chaos Winged Foot is likely to bring this year, taking the player who has thrived in those conditions all his career seems like a no-brainer at this price. 

Tommy Fleetwood +3500 or better (each-way)

Fleetwood is one of those players whose past US Open record suggests that we have some value in his outright number this week. The Englishman had previously struggled out of the gates in the second-half of 2020, losing over a stroke on his approaches in five of six starts. While his inconsistency is definitely a concern, the fact he managed to make the weekend in his last four full field events coming in, despite the lousy ball-striking, can be considered a good thing. 

Fleetwood didn’t take part in the Tour Championship, and instead flew to Portugal last week to take part in the Euro Tour event where he promptly landed a T3 finish on the back of weekend rounds of 68 and 64. According to him, the event was fruitful for his game and he was able to test some new equipment as well.

For a player who has taken to this event so well–landing T2 and T4 finishes here in 2017 and 2018–we’re getting quite a nice price to take a shot that Winged Foot ends up being “the place” for his major breakthrough. With his confidence now on the rise, it’s good enough for me to mark him down for a place in the each-ways this week. 

Jason Day +3500 or better (each-way)

Day should be a popular source of discussion this week no matter how he plays. The Aussie looked like he was on his way to getting back into the top-5 players in the world, when he landed four straight top-10 finishes in a row, including a T4 finish at the PGA Championship. Day actually led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach stats at the year’s first major which only made his next two starts all that more shocking. Day ejected out of the first two playoff events, showing some serious fatigue in his ball-striking which caused him to lose over -6 strokes on Approach in two straight weeks. 

Which Day we’ll get here is a mystery, but this is player who has great US Open form, with two runner-up finishes and five top-10’s overall at the event already gained throughout his career. Day’s also performed well at Tillinghast venues in the past as he managed a T2 finish at Baltusrol in 2016 and also finished T23 at Bethpage Black in 2019 at the PGA Championship. If good Jason shows up, there’s player better suited to handle Winged Foot’s treacherous green structures and at this price, I’ll gladly take the risk that bad Jason was just a two week mirage. 

Si Woo Kim +10000 or better (each-way)

Si-Woo ranks out ninth in this field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green stats over the last 24 rounds and 5th in SG: Approach stats. He actually rates out better in short-term recent form than the last major winner, Collin Morikawa. While it’s now been three years since his career-defining Players win, Kim is still a young player at just 25-years of age and has been flashing the most consistent form of his career since the restart. 

It’s worth repeating just how good Kim was when he won the Players in 2017, as the venue played extremely tough that year, yielding its worst winning score there (-10) since 2008. Kim;s now gained over +2.8 strokes around the green in each of his last two starts and is coming off the best major championship finish of his career at TPC harding Park (T13). I love taking a shot with him at triple-digit prices for an echa-way here. 

Martin Kaymer +10000 or better (each-way)

Kaymer’s last professional win came six years ago at this event, when he took down the US open at Pinehurst for the second major title of his career. The German has worked hard on his game of late though and while the wins haven’t been there, lately he’s flashed form that suggests he may have one more big run left in him. After missing his first two cuts after the restart, Kaymer comes in having landed finishes of T3 and T2 in his last two starts and performed well at one of the toughest venues in the world at Valderrama two weeks ago where he fell just short on the final couple holes. 

Kaymer winning the US Open again may sound like a pipe dream, but stranger things than that have happened at this US Open before, just ask Geoff OIgilvy. At a big price, taking him on here to produce a place in the each-way portion of the bet makes a ton of sense. There’s few players in the field at these prices with a better blend of experience and form right now than him. 

Tournament matchups 

Daniel Berger over Webb Simpson -109

Berger and Simpson actually profile quite similarly in many ways. Both are great at avoiding bogies, with Webb leading the Tour in that area last season. Simpson hasn’t done his best work at tougher venues this year though, landing just a T37 the PGA Championship and a missed cut at the Memorial. Berger has gained strokes off the tee in all but one event in 2020 and his distance advantage should really give him a big edge at this lengthy venue. He’s a solid target here at even money. 

Hideki Matusyama over Patrick Cantlay +100

Cantlay has struggled to find consistency since coming back from the restart, posting nothing better than a T12 in his last five starts. Matsuyama hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire all the time either but he’s shown progress of late, landing a T3 finish at the BMW Championship where he gained over +6 strokes around the greens. On top of the better form, Hideki also outranked Cantlay in bogey-avoidance last year by about 30-spots. He seems better prepared for this week’s test and at plus-money looks like a player worth backing here. 

Top-20 market

Brian Harman +600

Harman comes in ranked 13th in bogey avoidance over the last 24-rounds. The shorter hitter has been finding a lot of fairways of late, and has made the cut at the last two US Opens he’s contested, even posting a T4 finish in 2017. He finished T11 and T12 in back-to-back playoff events as prep so this price looks pretty juicy considering his recent form. 

Justin Harding +800

Harding is coming in off a close-call over in Europe, landing a T3 finish at the tough Valderrama two weeks ago. The South African is a Euro-Tour regular but has flashed good upside on this side of the pond before, finishing T12 at last year’s Masters. Harding’s a strong putter who ranked T11 in SG: Around the Green stats in Europe last season. He’s worth a shot at these prices for a top-20 considering the toughness of the course this week.

First-round leader bets

Check back for updates later in the week!

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