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How to Bet on Golf

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In many ways, golf in the United States is a lot like tennis: Mostly only followed by older white people. While Tiger Woods made some inroads with younger people and African-Americans in his heyday and remains not just the most popular golfer in the world but one of the most popular athletes, golf is simply a white person’s sport. We won’t go too deep into socioeconomics but It’s very expensive to play a round of golf. Thus, for the most part only privileged kids get to grow up learning the game and they eventually became the biggest fans and bettors on the sport.

There are professional golf tours all over the country – the sport is massive in Japan, for example – but there are four primary tours: PGA Tour (men), LPGA Tour, Champions Tour (men over 50) and European Tour. For these purposes, we will focus on the PGA Tour because 95 percent if not more of all golf betting in this country is on that tour – plus every tournament is televised. Obviously in Europe, betting on that Tour would be bigger than the PGA Tour. 

Many top Europeans also play the PGA Tour to keep their membership, but most top Americans don’t go play in Europe except for a few times a year. The four biggest golf events each year are the Grand Slam tournaments:  The Masters in April and always at storied Augusta National in Georgia, the PGA Championship in May (rotates locations), the U.S. Open in June (rotates locations) and the British Open in July (rotates locations). 

The PGA Tour also has a three-event postseason called the FedEx Cup playoffs. Those occur in August and are the Northern Trust, the BMW Championship and the season-ending Tour Championship. The winner of the Tour Championship now also wins the FedEx Cup and that prize of a whopping $15 million. 

For the most part, golf betting takes a huge dip following the Tour Championship until the following January except in Ryder Cup years (every even-numbered year). That’s the biggest team event in the sport, featuring the best of the United States against the best in Europe.

All regular PGA Tour events are four rounds of stroke play except for the World Golf Championships- Match Play Championship every March. While stroke play is determined by how many strokes under par a player finishes – once in a while in a U.S. Open at a very tough course or a British Open where there is terrible weather, a winner might be over par – match play is simply head-to-head. The winner of a hole goes 1 up, etc. 

Holes also can be halved. Doesn’t matter if both players shoot 12s or both 3s. The majority of PGA Tour events also cut the field down from 156 on Thursday to the Top 65 and ties after 36 holes. If players miss the cut, they don’t make a dime. Some big-money tournaments like the World Golf Championship events or the Tour Championship don’t have a cut because the field is smaller.

Here are some basics for how to bet on golf.

Golf Odds

Pre-tournament moneyline wagers

Most golf bets are placed before the tournament begins on Thursday morning. The primary wager is on the tournament winner, although many times that’s a waste of money because you are betting on one player to beat the entire 156-man field (or whatever the size of the field.). Consider that even the best players in the world only win maybe three times a season. 

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year for the 2018-19 season despite winning just one tournament: It happened be the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup. What McIlroy did so well was contend nearly every week. 

Let’s use the Masters as a betting example of what a bet to win menu would look like:

Brooks Koepka    +800

Dustin Johnson    +1000

Rory McIlroy    +1000

Tiger Woods    +1400

Justin Thomas     +2000

There will be odds to win on every single player in the field, with some long shots priced as high as +100000. There also will be odds on every single player in the field to be the first-round leader. Or to finish in the Top 5, Top 10 or Top 20.

A $100 bet on Koepka to win would return $800. The same bet on Justin Thomas would bring back $2000. Keep in mind that these odds to win will change before each round depending on where the player is on the leaderboard. Entering a tournament, however, there will NEVER be a minus-favorite, for example: -200. Golf fields are too deep for a player to be that heavily favored. It’s rare to see a player below +500 to win a full-field tournament. 

Other popular bets are nationality wagers. Such as, top American finisher or top European or top Asian. There will be moneyline prices attached to every player in the field from those respective countries.

When determining which golfer(s) to bet on, the two biggest factors are current form and course/tournament history. Tiger has won the Masters five times, one shy of Jack Nicklaus’ record, so he’s always going to be among the favorites while in his prime because Augusta National clearly suits his game. Some golfers like the way certain course designers lay out their courses. Some don’t – Phil Mickelson does not like Pete Dye-designed courses for whatever reason.

Parlay bets are available: For example, a player could bet on Tiger to win but “hedge” that bet on Dustin Johnson to finish as the top American. Not wise to put all your eggs in one basket regarding a parlay. 

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Matchup bets

It’s very difficult to predict a winner of a tournament, so a much easier wager to win – albeit with nowhere near the potential return – are match bets. These are simply one golfer against another and however has the best score wins. There are match bets available before the tournament for the full 72 holes and also available for each round. Oddsmakers won’t be able to put out match bets on every single player in the field because that’s just not feasible. Usually only the bigger-name players against one another. 

A match bet menu might look like (full tournament or one certain round):

Tiger Woods     -140

Rory McIlroy    Even

It would take a $140 bet on Tiger to win $100, while a $100 wager on McIlroy would return the same. It doesn’t matter if the player you wager on wins by one shot or 15. Should the players shoot the same number, it’s a tie or push and the bet is returned.

Prop Bets

The various sportsbooks will put out hundreds of props options for the Grand Slam events, while there won’t be nearly as many available for a regular Tour event. Grand Slam tournaments dwarf all others – except the Ryder Cup – in terms of betting action. 

Some prop options for the Masters could be

Will Tiger Woods make the cut?    -200

Will Tiger Woods miss the cut?    +400

Will Rory McIlroy have a hole in one?    +2000

Over/under Round 1 score of 70 for McIlroy: over +140, under -150

Who will be the top amateur?

Will the tournament go to a playoff?

Coming in 2020, the PGA Tour is rolling out expanded prop betting by providing bettors the opportunity to wager on their favorite golfers on a shot-by-shot basis. These types of bets could include live betting such as the number of greens hit in regulation by a golfer during a single round, as well as individual props on whether a golfer will birdie a certain hole. So it’s a great time to learn golf betting. 

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