Another major weekend is upon us. California is the center of the golf universe, amateurs get their big shot, and Brooks Koepka is a short price on a big stage.
But that’s not the biggest story in the game right now. The pending shakeup on the PGA Tour that will come with the infusion of Saudi Public Investment Fund money is still the ongoing meta-drama in the game of golf.
But not the golf betting game.
Koepka’s case illustrates three things in the current and future state of golf betting. Unabated co-founder Rufus Peabody has some thoughts.
There’s Value at the Top, Just Not on Betting Koepka
Coming off a win in the PGA Championship and a second-place finish in the Masters, Koepka was one of the shorter prices on the board in the outright market, generally around 11-1. The public loves betting Koepka.
The allure of betting Koepka is that he’s a different golfer in the majors, and Peabody says there’s evidence to back that up. Koepka has outperformed his scores in non-major by nearly a stroke per round.
But that doesn’t make mean you can discount his underlying fundamentals entirely. (Maybe you’ll see them on display at the Travelers.)
“We still know who this guy is as a golfer,” Peabody said. “He’s not this world beater. As we get more and more data, we sort of see that maybe he’s like the Coors Field of golfers in a way. He’s the outlier.”
Which is why Peabody took a pass at betting Koepka at 11-1. It was a short price relative to the true skill level. But getting Scottie Scheffler at +750 was a different story. Just because someone is the favorite in the field, doesn’t mean there’s not value there.
“Look at how poorly he’s putted his last few events,” Peabody said. “He lost something like six strokes on the green for the week relative to the field. I’m banking on the fact that there’s more randomness in the putting and that he’s going to go more toward his career norms.
Peabody said he’s been seeing value on the shorter prices and the longer shots, but not on the middle of the pack.
“The last five years or so, that’s been the case, but that wasn’t the case 10 years ago when the guys that were the best players in the world were still a little bit underrated. I think it had something to do with which golfers were dominating. It may be golfer specific and who’s been dominant. If Cam Smith was (rated as) the best golfer in the world, I would still not be betting on him. “
(Sorry Cam Smith ticket-holders.)
Building a Model for the Mental Game
Why though, is Koepka so demonstrably better in majors? It’s possible there’s a mental aspect of golf that models don’t adequately quantify.
That may be the next frontier for golf handicapping. It’s certainly something Peabody is interested in examining.
“The biggest hole in my game in golf handicap is trying to figure out how to quantify the mental aspect of things,” he said.
Why are some players more likely to buckle down in tight, final rounds? Why can’t some players hold a lead? And how do you find a predictive signal in that noise?
One way, he said, might be to look at how players perform after blow-up holes. Do some players shoot consistently worse after they bogey a hole? Do others seem to suffer no ill effects? What about players who need to “learn to win”? Meaning those who seem to put it all together after they break through one time.
“Certain guys when they get in contention are much better or can hold up to that pressure,” he said. “The problem in quantifying that is for most PGA Tour golfers, being in the top five on a Sunday is rare. You don’t have that many observations for them. The goal is to predict a guy that hasn’t had many of those opportunities to predict how well he’s going to do when he gets them. So in essence, it’s to predict Brooks Koepka being better in majors early on before he actually is better in majors.”
The Future of the Tour
Coming into The Masters, there was uncertainty around how to handle LIV golfers. They played fewer rounds than their PGA Tour counterparts, and those rounds for the most part weren’t as competitive.
After suffering a knee injury in 2021, though, that easier schedule may have helped. Koepka freshened up and was in position to play lights-out in the first two majors of the year.
Plus, the other LIV golfers showed little rust (except Smith – again, sorry Cam bettors). We may have to put that theory to rest. Three-round golfers were still competitive.
But other than that, the pending merger – whatever form it ends up taking – will have little effect on the day-to-day of golf betting.
“I’m going to handicap the golf tournaments that guys play in,” he said. “It doesn’t change anything for me.”
The team golf element of LIV is one way the upstart tour tried to differentiate. Whether LIV continues to exist as a standalone entity or they try to incorporate team competition into current events, the markets were so small that if it were eliminated, it wouldn’t change the landscape much for golf bettors.
A merger could potentially eliminate some events off the calendar if LIV were to disappear entirely as a standalone. But it could be offset by a growth in betting events currently held on the DP World Tour.
For bettors, the bottom line on the merger is that if it helps grow the game, it will translate as a net positive for anyone who wants to get down more action.
“I want golf to be as big a game as possible because I want bigger markets and the ability to bet more,” he said. “More public interest is always good.”
And it never hurts to have more people betting Koepka in majors and shortening him up if you’re bearish on his price.