News & Opinion

Is gambling in PGA Tour’s future? Bet on it

ATLANTA – The Ryder Cup is special because only in team match-play events does every shot matter to every spectator. Thanks to the inherent nationalism, everyone has a rooting interest, for or against, which makes it so fun.

In a typical stroke-play tournament, whether Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy makes a birdie or a bogey is no sweat off your brow. You don’t live or die with every stroke. 

Unless you have money bet on them. Then, you are interested. You are very interested.

Barely a day after the PGA Tour announced an Integrity Program to make sure that golf isn’t sullied by any kind of gambling or tanking scandal (such as with men’s pro tennis), commissioner Jay Monahan conceded that the Tour is “intrigued by gaming.” 

Forget his terrible timing. Any businessman would be a fool to ignore the millions of dollars that gambling generates, and Monahan is no fool. Websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel deal in millions of dollars and, more important, spend a lot of money of advertising. They might even be potential sponsors someday.

DraftKings already offers a not-very-satisfying fantasy golf option. The PGA Tour does not endorse it or any other wagering programs.

“You have to see how daily fantasy continues to evolve,” Monahan said Tuesday at East Lake Golf Club, site of this week’s Tour Championship (tee times: http://bit.ly/2d5pHyV). “We’re domiciled in Florida. We want to make certain that the legality and acceptance of daily fantasy is universal before we would make a move, but we’re intrigued by daily fantasy.”

One of my former colleagues said 15 years ago that one way to turn the LPGA into a thriving entertainment vehicle would be gambling. Imagine if you had online betting, he said, and you could get a handset and place wagers from the comfort of your own couch during a telecast and actually bet on live shots. Hmm, I can get 7-5 odds that Marcy Dumstruck will miss the green with this approach shot… 

That would be very entertaining, and like any trip to Las Vegas, potentially expensive for the losing gambler. He was right, though. Nothing gets you invested like rooting for your own money. 

There’s a downside to that, too. I was at a jai alai fronton near my former home in Milford, Conn. I remember one eager fan down by the netting cheering on his player. “C’mon, Joe! C’mon, Joe.” He applauded when Joe won the point. For his bet, however, he apparently needed Joe out of the way against his next opponent because on every shot he was hollering, “Drop it, Joe! Drop it!”

Jai alai wagering is an especially fickle game. Fans pledge allegiance to their wagers.

Betting on golf is legal and popular in the United Kingdom. There are all kinds of odds. At the British Open, you can wager on which member of the threesome will post the low score. And there are always odds on players winning. I got a $200 bet down on Adam Scott at 27-1 because a month before the 2012 Open, I had a strange dream that he was going to win the Open at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. This was before his Masters victory.

I mentioned the dream in an online column and said I wasn’t going to place a bet. An insistent reader said he dreamed that Padraig Harrington was going to win the 2007 Open at Carnoustie. He didn’t bet it, and Harrington won. The reader said he has been kicking himself ever since.

So, I bet Scott, and it went horribly wrong. I should have gone all in and bet another $200 on him to finish top four, which would have paid off at one-fourth of the odds. Except I dreamed he won, not finished second, so why risk the bad karma? It’s been five years. I’m almost over it.

Gambling is a slippery slope. Which is why the Tour announced the integrity initiative that prevents anyone involved with the PGA Tour from wagering on golf (“PGA Tour doubles down against gambling,” Sept. 19, http://bit.ly/2xOXUMS). 

The new age of online betting isn’t going away. Pending legality issues (a way of saying that states want a cut of the proceeds), it’s only going to grow.

Is gambling bad? Then how come the Georgia Lottery has its own kiosk in baggage claim at the Atlanta airport? I picked up a couple of Jumbo Bucks Lotto tickets en route to my luggage. And how come the nearest casino isn’t more than one or two states away anymore?

Golf should dive in to daily fantasy wagering once the legal barriers are cleared.

“Fan engagement is important for any sport, and you look at the [gambling] activity in other sports and you look at the activity in golf. It’s significant,” Monahan said. “So, if we could play a role, that’s something we would be interested in.”

That integrity-on-gambling initiative was simply the PGA Tour posturing to make it clear that it will be vigilant on the subject.

In the not-so-long term, I look for the Tour to get involved in what could be a game-changer for the public’s interest level in golf.

Will it happen? For $5, I’ll give you good odds. 

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle