News & Opinion

New year touts golf gambling as almost a sure thing

As sports wagering expands in U.S., golf fans can start lining up for a piece of the action … and the PGA Tour will cash in big-time

Technically, I am now a professional gambler.

Because gambling involves money, there can be no such thing as an amateur gambler. There are plenty of people who are amateurs at gambling, though. Like me? Yeah, guilty as charged. Though, describing myself as a “professional gambler” carries a certain “Maverick”-like appeal that sounds much better.

I opened an account at FanDuel.com and placed bets on a few assorted football games and one golf event in the past two months. I did it all on my mobile phone because online wagering is legal in Pennsylvania, and I live near Pittsburgh. FanDuel.com allows residents of four states (Indiana, New Jersey and West Virginia are the others) to gamble online if they’re in one of those states when making a bet. I tried to place a wager on a football game while changing planes in Charlotte, N.C., recently, but, nope; my phone tattled on my location. So, I was shut out.

Ryder Cup
If you believe the oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag, the European team – that’s Alex Noren (from left) celebrating the 2018 Ryder Cup victory with Thorbjorn Olesen, Tyrrell Hatton and Francesco Molinari – is a +1.3 underdog for the 2020 matches. Huh? Don’t the guys who set the line realize that Europe has won 7 of the past 9 Ryder Cups? Get ready for plenty of golf action as sports wagering increases its hold on the U.S.

Sports gambling, if not golf gambling, will be one of the big stories of 2020 and 2021. It is inevitably coming to your phone or laptop, if it hasn’t already, and it’s going to be big. Fantasy sports betting already is huge, but now, every sort of wagering is available. Such as betting on golf. I have written that wagering on golf is for suckers, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing it. I placed several legal golf wagers at betting parlors in the United Kingdom while covering the British Open or Ryder Cup over the years.

Last month, I made my first legal online golf wager in America when I took the International team in the Presidents Cup at 2.8-1 odds. I saw the Internationals as underrated and thought the Americans might suffer from jetlag and a little less motivation than the Internationals, who were desperate to win the event for only the second time in three decades. The Internationals took a 10-8 lead into singles and then got steamrolled, starting with lead-off batter Tiger Woods. I lost. I was the sucker who took the sucker bet.

Ah, well. For all the effort I’ve put into my new gambling hobby, I’m pretty much only slightly above the initial amount I put into my account. There is a reason it’s called gambling and not free money. The sharps count on us suckers to lose, and that is usually a good bet, as it turns out.

On the plus side, my new hobby so far has cost less than my other hobby, playing golf. And now I have two hobbies at which I’m not very good.

Anyway, what’s different in 2020 is how easy it is to wager on a non-team sport such as golf. I didn’t care for DraftKings’ fantasy-draft golf wagers, in which you select a handful of golfers who then accrue points for birdies and pars (much like Stableford scoring). Having the tournament winner on your team helps, but it’s no guarantee of winning money. I tried it once and actually won a couple of bucks, but it seemed too contrived.

I prefer something more straightforward, such as betting a player to win a tournament or a team to win a Ryder Cup or maybe a member of a specific threesome to shoot the lowest score in the group.

All that stuff, long a betting staple in the U.K., is coming to America.
I checked FanDuel.com to see what kind of golf bet I could place today. There were odds for everyone in the field to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Jon Rahm was the favorite, at +470 (gambling-speak for 4.7-to-1 odds). I also found odds for The Players Championship, in which defending champion Rory McIlroy is 10-1 while Tiger Woods is 14-1. Those are kind of tempting.

That’s all FanDuel had for golf, so I looked at other wagering sites. One that was recommended, BetOnline.ag, had an entire slate of tantalizing golf wagers. This is the future coming at us.

Among the bets:

* Will Europe defeat the U.S. again in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits? The defending champs are +1.3 (1.3-to-1) underdogs. Really? They’ve won seven of the past nine Ryder Cups.

* Will an American win the Olympic gold medal in golf? That was +750. Will Tiger Woods win the gold medal? He was +900 (9-1) to succeed; -2000 (1-to-20; you’d risk $20 to win $1) if you bet that he won’t win gold. Brooks Koepka, meanwhile, was +700 to win, -1600 not to win.

* Odds to win at least one major? That included Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy, at +200 (2-1), and Woods and Jordan Spieth, +400 (4-1).

* Odds of Woods’ winning all four majors? That was +25,000 (250-1). Woods to win at least two majors is +2,000 (20-1). Rory McIlroy to win the Grand Slam was +40,000 (400-1).

I’m not suggesting that you take any of these bets. I’m just pointing out the variety of options.

Long-term, this probably is going to be good for golf. This is not a team sport in which fans have a built-in affinity for their hometown squad. Watching golf is watching a bunch of independent contractors, some of whom might appeal to you.

Wagering could be good for golf because it gives fans a vested interest. If you’re watching the U.S. Open and you see Dustin Johnson block a tee shot out of bounds, you may or may not have any reaction. How he fares is no sweat off your nose. But nothing engages a fan more than rooting for his or her own money. Golf hasn’t had that kind of spectator engagement or intensity except with superstars such as Woods and Phil Mickelson.

The PGA Tour has flipped on gambling. It had long opposed the idea, but officials now see how much revenue could be theirs and are staking their claim. The PGA Tour was planning to launch its own betting platform in 2020, but details are unclear about when or how that’s going to happen. But with the Tour sitting on a vast database from ShotLink, which tracks every player’s shots, there is potential for live in-game wagering.

Perhaps odds on a player hitting a par-3 green in regulation. Or odds on which player in a threesome hits it closer to the hole. You know, the kind of things you hear fans betting on with one another when they’re sitting around those par-3 greens while soaking in the sun and pouring down an adult beverage.

Just as TV has changed how it covers pro football to include fantasy information, it will alter the way golf is shown, too. Maybe CBS or Golf Channel will have its own odds analyst chipping in with commentary about a potential wager or background info that would suggest a wager.

Proposition bets such as the par-3 wagers could turn into standard fare that might become part of the TV broadcast. Even if they don’t, they’re a way to make watching golf on TV more exciting and engaging for the wagering viewer.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen. In fact, I’d bet on it.