As someone who enjoys having a punt – racing and football being my staple diet – I have to say I’ve never been drawn to betting on golf. As with every sport, there’s a huge market for it, but throughout the A-Z of codes there surely isn’t a game that’s harder to predict than golf.
When there are 160 players teeing up on a Thursday with 72 holes ahead of them before determining a Sunday winner and you are going to put your money on one of them to win outright, the only way to double your money is by folding it and putting it in your back pocket. Anything other than that and you may as well crunch it up and toss it into the gentle breeze.
I am genuinely surprised at how many people regularly bet on the outcome of golf tournaments, even if they’re picking players to finish in the top six in any given week. Especially when it comes to the bigger Tours and the Majors.
The house is loaded against the punter in a way like no other sport. Even in horse racing, if there are 18 horses in the field, and the favourite is 5-1, punters are immediately aware that the race is one in which a winner is incredibly difficult to find. Yet, in golf, you will have the favourite at around the 7-1 mark, to beat off 159 rivals over 72 holes. Those odds are insane – the favourite should be at least 16-1 given how tough it is to correctly guess, yes, guess, the winner.
Take the recent Scottish Open as an example. Yes, world No 11 Xander Schauffele might not have been the most difficult name to stumble across when having a pre-tournament bet. But, when you consider the golfers in front of him who failed to give you a run for your money, you will see how tough it was.
World No 1 Scottie Scheffler missed the cut for only the second time in 15 events this year. Collin Morikawa (No 4), Justin Thomas (No 5), Viktor Hovland (No 8), Will Zalatoris (No 13), Hideki Matsuyama (No 14) and Billy Horschel (No 15) all packed their bags and checked out of the Renaissance Club before the weekend.
Such is the quality of golf played at the top level that on any given week almost anyone in the field can win. Ben Curtis was a 500-1 outsider when he won the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St George’s. Paul Lawrie in 1991, John Daly in 1995 and Todd Hamilton in 2004 were also huge outsiders.
Although the exactness of this can’t be verified, Fox Sports have said that when Louis Oosthuizen won The Open Championship in 2010 his pre-tournament betting odds were 200-1. And when you have a player of the calibre of Oosthuizen at 200-1 teeing up at a Major, why would a punter even consider taking a bet of 8-1 on Rory McIlroy, for instance?
Yet, like lemmings going over the edge of a cliff, the punters keep coming and they keep putting their money down. They do so without realising that golf is the one sport where things can go horribly wrong for a golfer with one swipe of the driver. The course always bites back and no golfer can overpower any course.
Perhaps the only way to win at betting on golf is to catch a player on a hot streak – Scheffler for instance. If you had backed him at 10-1 on each of his 15 first appearances this season, you’d have been 266% up. And he’s world No 1.
If you’d similarly backed McIlroy at those same odds in his first 14 events you’d be 21% down and if you’d bet on Morikawa winning you wouldn’t have recouped one cent in 14 events. And he’s No 4 in the world.
– This column first appeared in the August 2022 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine. Subscribe here!