Beginner’s Guide to Betting Golf: Golf Betting Strategies

When it comes to betting the PGA Tour, there are three major types of bets that oddsmakers put out for the general public: futures bets, proposition bets, and head-to-head matchups. The type of bet that will get the most action is the futures bet.

Betting golf takes a lot of homework and knowing the game. If you go in picking favorites and big names every week, you’re going to lose a lot more than you win. A lot of tournaments and major championships are won by guys who aren’t necessarily being talked about in the press. Besides giving you some basics on betting golf, this guide will also look at things to consider when placing bets on futures and propositions.

Futures Bets and Live Bets

A futures bet is any bet made predicting a winner for a future event. Specific examples when it comes to golf include “Who will win the U.S. Open”, “Who Will Win the Ryder Cup”, and “Who Will Win PGA Tour Player of the Year”. Odds are usually attached to each player (or in terms of the Ryder Cup, each team). Most sports books will list future odds with a plus or minus number, as seen in the example below:

Odds to win the U.S. Open

Brooks Koepka
Dustin Johnson
Jordan Spieth
Rory McIlroy
Tiger Woods

Koepka’s odds at +800 mean he is 8-1. So for every $10 you play, you win $80 should be the champion. If you like Tiger Woods, his odds are 12-1. For every $10 you put down, you will win $120 should he win the Open. The bigger the name and better the golfer is playing coming into the event, the lower his odds will be.

There will also be futures bets on finishes. For example, there will be odds for a specific golfer to finish in the top-5 or in the top-10. Koepka may be +800 to win the Open, but may be -125 to finish in the top-10. If there’s a minus in front of it, this means you will win less than you put down. So if you put down $125 on Koepka to finish in the top-10 and he does, you will win $100 back.

As a tournament goes on, futures bets become “live bets”. These are bets that you can play as a tournament is being played. These will constantly change as players move up and down the leaderboard. You can bet these from the first tee shot on Thursday up until the final holes on Sunday. If Jordan Spieth starts out at +2000 but is leading after round 1, his odds are likely going to come down substantially, probably into the neighborhood of +500 or lower. If he is still ahead after day 3, they will be even extremely low as not much golf is left to play and not as many guys will have a chance to win. If Tiger Woods has a bad opening round, his live odds will go up a great deal.
Many bettors will want to see how the opening round or two play out before placing a wager. The value may not be as good as guys get eliminated from winning, but they want to play guys who are in contention. It’s hard to tell if they will be in contention before a tournament.

Proposition Bets

The bigger the tournament, the more prop bets that will be open to the public. Prop bets are bets made on a specific events or happenings in a tournament. Below are examples of prop bets you would see in a golf tournament:

Bet Option 1
Bet Option 2
Will there be a hole-in-one?
NO (-130)
How many birdies will Tiger Woods record in Rd. 1.
OVER 3.5 (-120)
UNDER 3.5 (-110)
Over/Under a winning score of 280.5
OVER (-135)
UNDER (+105)
Over/Under lowest score shot in a round 67.5
OVER 67.5 (-115)
UNDER 76.5 (-115)
Will there be a playoff?
Yes (+180)
No (-200)

Just like with futures bets, the minus number means you will win less money than you put down should you enter a winning ticket. The higher the number with the minus sign over 100, the better the chance of that happening. So there’s a better chance, oddsmakers think, of there being no playoff than there being a playoff at the end of the tournament. If you say there will be no playoff and you win, you will win $100 for every $200 you put down. But if you say there will be a playoff and there is one, you will win $180 for every $100 you put down.

Head-to-Head Matchups

The last type of bet you will see before and during a golf tournament are head-to-head matchups. These are similar to team sports bets in that it will simply ask you which golfer will score the better round or have the better tournament out of two or three guys. Most times it will be players playing together in a round. Here’s an example:

Which golfer will card the lowest first round score?

Tiger Woods
Jordan Spieth
Justin Rose

The bigger the names, the more play they will get from the betting public. Also, the bigger the name, the lower their odds will be. So Tiger Woods, being the most “public” golfer, is going to have the lowest odds of the three in the matchup, even though Jordan Spieth may be coming in on better form and Justin Rose has a better world ranking than Tiger Woods.

Betting Strategy on Golf

Picking a winner in a golf tournament is one of the hardest things to do in any sport. However, if you nail that champion’s pick, the payoff is quite nice and rewarding. In a major championship, you can many times find a really solid golfer with 25-1 or even 50-1 odds. For example, Francesco Molinari was 40-1 to win last year’s Open Championship. If you put $20 on him to win, you won $800 back. That’s the beauty of golf. And there’s always beautiful value out there to win good money. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.

1) Major Championships and big events are different from smaller events.

If you look at the history of major championships over the last five years, the guys winning have been some of the best ranked players in the world. Brooks Koepka was ranked 3rd in the world when he won the PGA Championship. Tiger Woods was ranked 12th when he won the Masters. Rory McIlroy was ranked 6th when he won the Players. Koepka was 4th when he won the 2018 PGA. Molinari was 15th when he won the Open. Koepka (yes, he obviously wins a lot) was 9th when he won the 2018 U.S. Open. And Patrick Reed was 24th when he won the 2018 Masters. The major champions before that? Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, and Sergio Garcia, all quality and top players.

In other words, the odds of a world class player inside the top-25 winning a major championship is very high. However, in smaller tournaments, it’s much harder to handicap. There have been nine first time winners (mostly a bunch of Who’s Who) already in 2019 on the PGA Tour, all in tournaments where many in the top-10 didn’t compete in. These are tournaments such as The Humana Challenge, The RBC Heritage Classic, and The Texas Open. I’m not telling you to strictly play big tournaments, but be cautious of the difficulty of betting the smaller tournaments. It’s more of a crapshoot.

2) Do LOTS of homework

Players who win majors and big tournaments are guys who are going into these tournaments in good form. Koepka finished 3rd the week before winning the PGA Championship this year and was 2nd at the Masters. Tiger Woods was putting up strong finishes before the Masters, including a 3rd place two weeks prior. Rory McIlroy had a streak of top-5 finishes before The Players Championship. Some may say “Who would pick Patrick Reed” at the 2018 Masters? Well, if you did your homework, you would have seen Reed had three consecutive top-10s leading up to Augusta. Molinari? He was 40-1, yet he had finished 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd in five of the previous six tournaments before last year’s Open Championship. There was nobody hotter in the world than Molinari last summer.

So you want to pick guys in good form, and guys who have been playing well in major championships, too. Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele are two of my top plays at the U.S. Open this year. Both were 25-1. Not sure they will win, but Cantlay won two weeks ago and finished 5th at the Masters and 3rd at the PGA Championship. Schauffele has finished runner-up in two of the last four majors, including a runner-up at The Masters and a winner in Hawaii in January. Plus both players are from California where the tournament is. So I feel there’s good value there.

3) Be Careful Playing Just Favorites

Betting a future on golf is hard. Really hard. A really good player coming in with great form can be priced at 50-1 and win just as easily as a Brooks Koepka or Tiger Woods. I would advise playing five guys in a major: one of the top favorites, three strong values in the 20-1 to 50-1 range, and then one real long shot who has been playing well of late but not getting any respect. Some of the bigger non-majors, such as The Players, The Memorial, or the WGC events, I would advise the same thing: playing a favorite and a longshot. In regular tournaments, I would look at playing more live bets. See how guys do after the first round and pick someone playing well and in contention. LIke I said above, picking a winner in a smaller tournament before it begins is so very hard. I’d rather get a feel of things first.

4) Know the Course and the Weather

This one requires you to also do your homework and study the golf course and the forecast. Two of the best prop bets out there are the lowest score for the tournament and the over/under on the winning score. A lot of the scores will be based off of weather, especially The Open Championship in Britain, so if you see a windy day coming up that is going to cause these guys frustration, it’s going to keep scores up and high. Usually oddsmakers don’t factor in weather when setting an early line. They look more at past history, plus player interviews and reports of how the course is playing in practice rounds. However, if Pebble Beach is calling for calm conditions for four days and the over/under is 280 total score (-4) and 67.5 for low round, chances are both those scores will go under. If a wind storm is forecast, take that over on the total for four rounds.

Playoffs offer value for a “Yes”, but keep in mind there haven’t been many playoffs in major championships. They have more value in regular tournaments. In the last 15 major championships played, there has been only one playoff. If you include the Players, that’s one out of the last 19.

5) Look at trends

When studying matchups, look at players scoring average per round. Going back to the Tiger Woods-Jordan Spieth-Justin Rose example, Tiger Woods traditionally starts out tournaments slow. He is ranked 68th in first round scoring average in 2019, whereas Jordan Spieth is ranked 5th. So playing Spieth in the round 1 matchups offers better value at +175.

This goes for a lot of your other plays. If Xander Schauffele has finished in the top-10 at the U.S. Open the last three years, a good bet on Schauffele would be for a top-10 finish. If there hasn’t been a hole-in-one at Pebble Beach in over 50 rounds played, why bet yes on that prop? If a winner for a tournament has come from the top-10 in the world five years in a row, look inside the top-10 for a pick. Trends are important for any sport, particularly in a difficult one like golf.

6) Look for value

Like mentioned above, you can get players at great value in futures bets. Molinari was 40-1 at last year’s Open but was playing the best golf of anyone in the world. There are players in the top-20 in the world playing sharp right now who will be at 50-1 or greater. Why not throw a few bucks on them if they fit the course well and are on good form. However, value can work the other way as well. Guys that are 5-1 or 6-1 and aren’t necessarily playing great may be best to stay away from. It’s hard to win a futures bet and most tournaments are wide open nowadays. Taking someone at 5-1 or 6-1 might be worth skipping and hoping for that a better value pick wins. I personally will hold off on anything less than 10-1 and play them live on day 2 or 3 if I have a good feel on them.

It’s a fun sport to bet on and a great feeling if you do pick a winner because of the rewards and the value that can be attached to it. Just make sure to follow the sport inside and out, read up on writers and experts who follow these players daily, and look at statistics and finishes of these players coming into the tournament. And as always, mange your money and well and don’t lose more money than you can handle.

I have a BA in Journalism from the University of South Florida and worked as a sports editorial assistant and supervisor for the Tampa Bay Times for 10 years. I've also taught and managed a Journalism program at the high school level and currently work as a freelance writer. I have a deep passion for sports, particularly golf, football, and baseball, and have been active in the gambling industry for the last 10 years.

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