The PGA Tour announced Thursday it will attempt to resume its season in mid-June, giving sports betting a jolt of optimism during the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered almost all live sporting events around the world.
The Charles Schwab Cup, scheduled to start June 11 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, would be the first tournament played. The tour also said the first four scheduled events will be played without spectators, and it “will continually review available COVID-19-related protocols that could be implemented at PGA TOUR events to ensure the health and well-being for all involved.
“The health and safety of all associated with the PGA TOUR and our global community continues to be our No. 1 priority, and our hope is to play a role — responsibly — in the world’s return to enjoying the things we love,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan. “Today’s announcement is another positive step for our fans and players as we look toward the future, but as we’ve stressed on several occasions, we will resume competition only when — working closely with our tournaments, partners and communities — it is considered safe to do so under the guidance of the leading public health authorities.”
A potential increased exposure window for the PGA Tour
Having the PGA Tour would be an immediate and notable draw for bettors and sportsbooks, whose live sports offerings are primarily Russian table tennis and soccer in Belarus and Nicaragua. To bolster those limited offerings, the Nevada Gaming Commission recently approved wagering on three eSports events — the Overwatch League and the North American and European League of Legends championships.
“Potential upside is of course quite significant, as the PGA Tour would have everyone’s attention,” Patrick Eichner, PointsBet‘s director of communications, told Sports Handle about the increased betting attention the PGA Tour would draw. “Their competition would not be the NBA or NFL, but rather along the lines of Russian table tennis or Nicaraguan soccer.”
Eichner added that PointsBet, which usually offers over 100 potential bet types per PGA Tour event, would “go up immediately with markets” and “adjust as needed” if the tour did announce a return.
Time to morph into a full PGA degen. https://t.co/RLJDQfd4kE
— Brad Evans (@NoisyHuevos) April 15, 2020
The PGA Tour embraced sports betting relatively early among major U.S. sports following the Supreme Court’s May 2018 decision to strike down PASPA, clearing the way for legalized sports betting beyond Nevada. The PGA Tour has a wealth of data that helps create betting markets through its ShotLink proprietary content, and it has struck deals with betting operators to be an official league data provider.
A DraftKings spokesperson noted the popularity of betting on Tour events, telling Sports Handle, “While our focus remains on the safety and well-being of our user community and the like, we look forward to the return of major US sports leagues including the PGA TOUR. Golf represents one of the most popular DFS played on the DraftKings platform, with over 30% of DraftKings’ userbase having played in at least one golf contest.”
DraftKings and FanDuel expressed the ability to mobilize their offerings quickly, with Fan Duel’s Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessy adding, “We support the league’s decisions to take action to protect the health and well-being of its players and fans. We look forward to everyone’s favorite leagues returning whenever it is safe for them to do so.”
What is ShotLink?
One challenge, though, could be finding the manpower required to make ShotLink operational if the tour is able to follow through on playing tournaments. ShotLink’s official website notes the “system is operated by a small staff of PGA Tour employees and a volunteer workforce each week. It normally takes approximately 350 volunteers per event to score the golf tournament.”
Andy Levinson, the senior vice president, tournament administration on the PGA Tour, did not say if ShotLink would be available, but noted to Sports Handle via email the tour is “focusing on finding a safe and healthy way to return to competition.”
ShotLink is a way to determine the exact distance between what the website calls “any two coordinates,” with the course digitally mapped prior to an event to help determine those distances between the coordinates. The coordinates could be as direct as a player’s distance to the hole regardless of shot type, or the distance from the tee box to a player’s shot.
The ShotLink technology has resulted in the PGA Tour offering a greatly enhanced selection of statistics, which includes standard categories for golfers such as driving distance, driving accuracy and greens in regulation. But a key offering pertinent to bettors is the “Strokes Gained” category, which ranks golfers based on tee-to-green performance, putting and a combination of the two for total performance. Those statistics can be further broken out by season or by tournament, which gives bettors a wide range of insight on golfers, such as historical performances at a scheduled venue or possible quantitative comparisons in a facet of the game based on recent play.
“As part of DraftKings’ position as the exclusive DFS provider of the PGA TOUR, DraftKings does have the ability to leverage the PGA TOUR’s ShotLink technology,” a DraftKings spokesperson explained. “The partnership is a first for the PGA TOUR in the DFS space and grants DraftKings rights that enhance DFS product offerings and accurate player statistics, ultimately providing users with an authentic and immersive gaming experience.”
In terms of betting, ShotLink has helped sportsbooks offer a plethora of betting options. Some of the more popular ones include head-to-head wagering between golfers, ranging from two or potentially more high-profile players in the field to those in the same group playing together.
This can be done for both the entire tournament and on a round-by-round basis, and it makes an attractive offering for the four majors — though ShotLink is not used at those specific events since they are not run by the PGA Tour — and other high-profile events including The PLAYERS Championship, World Golf Championship events, and the FedEx Cup.
Betting then can expand to a player’s individual performance over a round, such as an over/under on the number of birdies. The eventual end point, given the ShotLink technology, is the potential to place a wager on nearly every potential shot a golfer takes.
Pandemic results in massive changes to PGA schedule
A new golf calendar for 2020.https://t.co/JKA5gYh3A9
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) April 16, 2020
The PGA Tour has not held a full event since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March, with nine events canceled or postponed thus far. The pandemic has also dramatically altered the tour’s schedule, including the shifting of the three majors held in the United States. At the moment, most sportsbooks’ golf offerings are limited to futures bets on those three majors and the Ryder Cup scheduled for late September.
The Masters, an April fixture, has been tentatively scheduled for mid-November at Augusta, while the U.S. Open – normally held in June and this year slated for Winged Foot Country Club just outside New York City – has been pushed back to mid-September.
The PGA Championship, which was originally going to take place in May at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, was moved back to Aug. 6-9. Golf’s other major, the Open Championship run by the Royal and Ancient and scheduled to be played in July at Royal St. George’s in England, was canceled earlier this month.
There are still other logistical hurdles to overcome, most notably involving the states’ varying rules regarding travel and self-quarantine. For example, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently extended an order requiring a 14-day quarantine for anyone flying into the state. It is also possible the PGA Championship, which is run by the PGA of America, could be relocated from its site in California.
Monahan is among more than 100 members of an advisory council created by President Donald Trump Tuesday to help plan for re-opening of the U.S. economy.