As a sports bettor, your life is your bankroll. If you want to squander it then betting golf is the perfect market to suffer a “death by 1000 cuts.” Your bankroll will inevitably suffer that fate if you allow it. The allure of 10:1, 50:1, even 200:1 odds is undeniable. Just remember that Sportsbooks are in the business of taking more money than they give. Betting successfully on golf is no different than any other sport. It takes a thoughtful plan, practice, and learning from your own mistakes. That is how you make your own luck, and find an edge as a bettor. A big portion of that equation is not beating yourself.
Some Of The Fine Print Of Golf Betting
Before we dive into the various types of bets offered in the golf market – outright winners, round betting, finishing positions, head-to-head and other pre-defined matchups, among others – we must unfortunately begin with the fine print.
Dead Heat Rules
“Golfer X” to finish in the top (5, 10, 20) of a tournament is one of the more popular types of bets in the golf market. As you know, however, there are no playoff holes to differentiate those golfers who finish tied for 10th. The sportsbook differentiates by applying their own set of rules, called Dead Heat Rules.
Nearly every Sportsbook applies some variation of Dead Heat Rules to the golf market. In essence, the stake on a winning bet is divided in proportion to the number of golfers tied and the finishing position(s) left. The stake divided is not returned to you, so, it is possible that a “winning” bet results in a net loss.
An example: You’ve placed a $100 wager at 4:1 (+400) odds on Brooks Koepka to finish in the top 5 at the upcoming Masters Tournament.
- Koepka finishes in sole possession of 5th place:
- $500 is returned to you ($100 stake + $400 winnings)
- Koepka finishes tied 4th with 4 other golfers:
- $200 is returned to you ($40 stake + $160 winnings)
Here, there is a 5-golfer tie for the last 2 positions available in the top 5 – finishing positions 4th and 5th. Your original stake ($100) is divided by the number of golfers tied in the same position (5) and multiplied by the number of finishing positions available (2) to round out the “top 5” market. The new, reduced stake is $40 (($100/5) x 2 = $40)). Your odds remain the same (4:1), and those odds are applied to your reduced stake.
- Koepka finishes tied for 5th with 4 other golfers:
- $100 is returned to you ($20 stake + $80 winnings).
Where 5 golfers tie for the same position, any 1 of those 5 represents 20% of the 5th finishing position. Your stake reduces to 20% of itself, and you end up even money in this scenario. There is always a tipping point where the reduction of your stake is enough to turn a winning bet into a net loss. Add 3 more golfers tied for 5th in the last example and see for yourself.
Reducing Odds Instead of Stake
Some Sportsbooks will cut the odds (rather than the stake) in the case of a dead heat – which is far preferable as bettors. An odds reduction always results in a profit, no matter how small, because your entire stake is returned to you.
It may be complicated, and difficult to find, but sportsbooks post the fine print on all betting markets somewhere on their apps and websites. Be sure you’ve done your homework before you place a bet with any specific sportsbook or in any specific market, because it can make a world of difference in terms of return on investment (ROI). A winning bet is not necessarily the goal, maximizing ROI is the goal.
Betting Golf Outright Winners
No need to worry about the fine print here. Your golfer will either win or lose. What should concern you in the outright betting market is bankroll management and implied odds. Dustin Johnson may be the most likely to win a particular tournament all things considered but does that make him a good bet at only 5:1 (+500) odds?
“Simulating this tournament 100 times, do I make money on this bet?” If the answer is “yes” then you’ve found a positive expected value (EV) bet.
The answer is actually “probably not” in the above example. At 5:1 (+500) odds, Dustin Johnson would have to win 17 of 100 of those simulations in order for you to turn a profit long term. At $100 each, it takes 17 winning bets to negate those 83 losses – (($100 x 5) x 17) = $8,500. Dustin Johnson may very well win the tournament, and may rightly be the favorite, but that does not necessarily make this bet a profitable one at these odds.
Value in this market may come with longer odds. Run the same simulation with different golfers, different odds, to understand your chances of winning. A “death by 1000 cuts” is voluntary. Are you making a positive EV bet?
One way to be responsible in this market is to treat longshots like the lottery ticket they are, and not make it a significant portion of your bankroll’s “assets.” Another way is to hedge your longshots in other markets or at different times during the course of a tournament. Let’s say you don’t care that 5:1 odds is too short to bet Dustin Johnson to win, because you are certain he will play well and win.
Risk Mitigation In Golf Betting
You could place a fraction of a typical “unit” on him to win outright. Place another wager, or series of wagers, on him to finish in the top 5, 10, 20, etc. at unit sizes which results in one wager paying for the next. You’ll have to risk more money using this method. So, it will be all the more devastating if he turns his ankle and withdraws. Never bet more than your bankroll can handle losing.
You can reduce your risk by taking entire rounds out of consideration. If you believe Dustin will start quickly but don’t want to sweat out the whole tournament, you can place a wager on him being the “leader after round X.” Dead heat and other rules may apply, as always.
Live betting is another useful tool when betting golf. If you believe Dustin will get off to a slow start, wait until the opening round(s) of a tournament conclude. Sportsbooks change the odds as the tournament goes along, like any other live betting scenario. His odds of winning will get better (from your perspective) if he starts poorly. Watch the first round and evaluate from there. You may find that you like a different golfer entirely after one round.
If the leaderboard bunches up at the top, you can often still get plus money odds on an outright winner up to and even into the final round of a tournament. You only have to sweat out the final round, already having seen how the first round(s) transpired for the entire field of golfers. Live betting allows you to enter the market when you are comfortable. It also provides the opportunity to hedge as the tournament progresses. Be patient.
The Masters Tournament is fast approaching and the Sportsbook has brought you a Trojan Horse. Bryson DeChambeau is a (-180) favorite versus Ian Poulter (+140) in individual match betting. These bets are usually head-to-head type rules. If Bryson finishes in a better position than Ian when the last putt falls, you win.
Most Sportsbooks offer this kind of bet in a variety of shapes and sizes. The “betting without Tiger” group as they used to call it. Several golfers are put into pre-defined groups in head-to-head or “3 ball” matchups. The Sportsbooks create these groups based on tee-times, golfer popularity, amateur status, even geography (top American player, Asian player, etc.).
Head-to-head matchups offer bettors the chance to root for a specific player and against another player. Every hero needs a villain, right? Additionally, these matchup bets offer a lower variance approach to golf betting. If you don’t want the longshot risk of an outright bet, a matchup bet might be what you’re looking for.
Sportsbook Hold in Golf Betting
Sportsbooks add a fee to the betting market in the form of the “vigorish.” You’ve heard it before: a sports bettor must win roughly 52.5% (not 50%) of their bets to break even at typical (-110) odds. That is because of the vig.
At +140 odds for Ian Poulter and -180 for Bryson, this market has a 5.62% theoretical hold. Compare that to an Outright Winner market which may have a theoretical hold north of 20%. You can experiment with the hold on markets using the Unabated Hold Calculator.
It may seem trivial but the greater hold mean less margin for error as sports bettors, which is always something to consider before placing a wager. Less margin for error does not, however, foreclose on the possibility that the sportsbook has left us with an edge worth exploiting. Sometimes the best bet you can make is no bet at all, so, as always, be thoughtful and selective.
Will a lingering injury cause a golfer to withdraw from a lesser tournament before a major tournament? Do they have a history of withdrawing? Does that give you enough of an edge to bet the other golfer in the matchup?
Maybe Ian Poulter is just a better golfer at that course than his matchup. If you golf, you know that some holes/courses just fit your eye better. Golf is played between the ears after all. How are they putting recently? Better or worse than their average? Is there reason to suspect positive or negative regression?
A new putter, a new caddie, a new swing coach, a month off. Does the price reflect the advantages or disadvantages you believe will determine the result? If not, why not? Is there anything you’ve overlooked?
Other Golf Betting Options
If you have a feel for a certain golfer, you can exploit it in the “to make/miss” the cut market. Phil Mickelson to make the cut: “Yes” at (-200); “No” at (+175). Will Phil be more interested in his upcoming made-for-tv match with so-and-so? Is he focused? Is there reason to believe “No” is a positive EV bet all things considered?
Hangovers are real, especially following a Major win. In the last 3 PGA Tour seasons alone: Gary Woodland won the 2019 U.S. Open then missed the cut at his next tournament. Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters and missed his next cut, albeit at the PGA Championship. Collin Morikawa won 2020 PGA Championship then missed the cut at his next tournament. Put yourself in their shoes.
You can also bet props on top finish by nationality. Are you well studied on South African golfers? Then, Top Finish by Nationality might be for you. They say golf is a mental game. Play psychologist if you are good at it. Play the numbers and hedge your way to a profit if you are good at it. The golf market allows you an opportunity to profit these ways. You will need to practice. You will need to prepare. Take the time to understand the rule(s) of engagement at the Sportsbook of your choosing. Know your bankroll tolerance. Know these things before you bet, and you are off to a good start. Best of luck.