Guide To PGA Golf Betting – Tips and Strategy For Legal Sportsbooks

If you’re new to golf betting, or have only bet casually on golf in the past, then this golf betting guide is for you. Follow along as we take you inside the ropes, breaking down different types of golf bets and lining up our best golf betting tips. Without further ado, let’s tee off!

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Which states offer legal golf betting?

StateLegal and Live?
ArizonaLegal, not live
ArkansasYes
Colorado
Yes
DelawareYes
FloridaLegal, not live and legal challenges expected
IndianaYes
IowaYes
MichiganYes
MississippiYes
IllinoisYes
LouisianaLegal, not live
MarylandLegal, not live
MontanaYes
New HampshireYes
New JerseyYes
New MexicoYes
NevadaYes
New YorkYes
OregonYes
PennsylvaniaYes
Rhode IslandYes
South DakotaLegal, not live
TennesseeYes
VirginiaYes
WashingtonLegal, not live
Washington, D.C.Yes
West VirginiaYes

Golf bets, lines, odds, outrights/futures and more golf betting terms to know

  • Golf Outrights/Golf Futures
  • First Round Betting
  • Matchups
  • Golf Props
  • Each-way Betting

For more general sports betting terms, check out SportsHandle’s Sports Betting 101 & 201.

What are PGA Outright and Futures Bets?

Betting on outrights or golf futures is arguably the most popular way for sports bettors to get skin in the game on professional golf tournaments. Similar to betting which team you think will win the Super Bowl or World Series, a golf outright or futures bet picks an individual golfer to win a particular golf tournament.

Unlike futures in other sports, you won’t have to sit through an entire season plus playoffs before cashing out. You can place your wager the Wednesday before the golf tournament and cash out on Sunday after the final round. For big tournaments like the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship you can wager on winners far in advance.

Here are what golf futures odds for the 2020 Masters (in November 2020) looks like at FanDuel Sportsbook for some of the top names in golf:

  • Rory McIlroy +600
  • Jon Rahm +1100
  • Brooks Koepka +1200
  • Tiger Woods +1200
  • Justin Thomas +1400
  • Dustin Johnson +1600

As you see, golf futures odds look much like NFL, MLB, and NBA futures. A $10 golf bet on Rory McIlroy (+600 or 6/1) will earn $60 in profit if McIlroy wins his first green jacket. A $10 bet on Dustin Johnson will win $160. Last year a bettor won over $1M by betting $85,000 on Tiger Woods to win the 2019 Masters at +1400 (14/1) odds.

Tips for betting on golf outrights & futures

Now that we know what golf outrights and futures are, here are some golf betting tips to consider before making your picks.

Shop golf odds at legal, U.S. sportsbooks

True for any form of sports betting, but for futures in particular, make a habit of shopping golf odds and using all of the legal sportsbooks at your disposal. Golf odds can vary drastically from one sportsbook to the next. A $10 bet may pay out $60 at one site and $85 at another. Shopping odds can be the difference in whether you’re a winning or losing golf bettor long-term.

Timing is everything

In the same vein, it’s important to try to time your bets. Just as a Wall Street trader wants to buy low and sell high, any golf bettor wanting to be profitable must assess and predict the optimal time to bet on certain golfers. For some, this might mean betting early, as soon as odds come out. For others, it might mean waiting for public money to come in and locking in your bet the night before the golf tournament.

This is an acquired skill, and though you won’t ever be perfect, you will get a better feel for timing the more you bet on golf.

Listen to sports betting podcasts, follow helpful Twitter accounts, and read golf betting articles to gauge who might be popular bets. If you have your eyes on a golfer and anticipate him gaining steam, stay on your toes and try to wager on his opening odds.

If you’re targeting a golfer who you think will fly under the radar, show patience. It’s often better to wait for oddsmakers to adjust prices as money is being bet through the week. If a golfer you like isn’t gaining traction while other golfers are, you’re likely to get better odds on Wednesday than Monday. In some cases, golfers can fluctuate from +6000 to +8000 (and vice versa) over the span of a couple of days.

Embrace the variance

More so than other sports, golf is a game with A LOT of variance, where the difference between a good round and a bad round is as little as four shots, and where the winner is often determined, in part, by a combination of lucky breaks, advantageous tee times (weather), and hot putting streaks that are anything but predictable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find an edge.

Sharp sports bettors embrace variance and harness uncertainty. There’s no sport in which this is more true than golf.

Avoid the chalk

One way to embrace variance is by avoiding the chalk, i.e., the favorites.

Especially in high-profile tournaments, public money floods toward high-profile golfers, or those with good course history (more on that later), even if they aren’t in the best form. Casual bettors love to bet on Tiger Woods and other big names in golf tournaments. However, it is difficult to find value in these guys as sportsbooks will preemptively shade their golf odds if they expect a lot of money on a particular golfer.

Look at Rory McIlroy, once again the top-ranked golfer in the world. The Irishman went winless on the PGA Tour in the four major championships during the 2013 season, just one year removed from claiming the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings for the first time in his career.

McIlroy would find himself atop the golf rankings again in 2014 and 2015 before falling into a slump in 2017 and 2018. Despite being arguably the best golfer in the world and consistently favored by oddsmakers, McIlroy would only win twice between the start of the 2017 season and his victory at the 2019 PLAYERS Championship.

Similarly, former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson has raised merely a single individual trophy out of 24 events since the beginning of the 2019 golf season. This hasn’t been good for Johnson bettors, who bet on their guy as low as 7/1 odds to start the season. Johnson’s odds have stayed short, rarely opening at longer than 10/1 when he is in the field.

I generally limit my outright bets to golfers that pay out at least +2000 (20/1).

Identify the next big thing before the data does

That’s not to say you wouldn’t be profitable betting on some favorites like McIlroy and Johson if you had been betting them over the long haul. After all, they are favorites for a reason — the two have over 50 combined professional wins!

But look at the golf odds of their early victories. Johnson was 50/1 to win the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Oddsmakers began showing Johnson more respect afterward, as the long hitter would defend his title at Pebble Beach in 2010 with 20/1 odds.

Like Johnson, McIlroy also earned his first victory on Tour as a 50/1 long shot.

So you see, the problem isn’t betting on the best golfers in the world. In fact, you want to be betting on the best golfers in the world before we know they’re the best golfer in the world (and again, buying low). That’s a lot easier said than done, of course.

Research, know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em

I’m sure you’re asking something to the effect of “So … how do I identify which golfers will inevitably find success?”

There’s no secret recipe, but if you want to beat oddsmakers and other bettors to the punch it’s pivotal to keep your eye on the top amateurs in the world and collegiate golfers turning pro.

Consider this: There were 14 first-time winners on Tour in 2019, and already six more in 2020 before the season’s temporary suspension. That means 20 of the last 68 tournaments — a little less than one of every three — have gone to first-time winners despite goliaths like Rory McIlory, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka often standing in their way.

Identifying golfers on the rise

Most of the above-referenced golfers were successful as amateurs and in college. For some, it took years to become acclimated to Tour life and competition before winning, but a handful of golfers wasted little time achieving their first milestone.

A few in particular stand out in their youthfulness and their exceptional pedigree/amateur accomplishments, none more so than former Oklahoma State golf teammates Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland. First let’s take a look at their pro victories and respective golf odds:

  • Matthew Wolff +12500 at the 2019 3M Open
  • Viktor Hovland +1000 at the 2020 Puerto Rico Open

Along with leading the Cowboys to a 2018 NCAA Division 1 Championship, both had played in PGA fields prior to turning pro and were individually among the top-ranked college and amateur players.

After winning the Phil Mickelson Award for top freshman of the year in 2018, Wolff became the top college golfer as a sophomore. Hovland finished as the low amateur in the 2019 Masters, rising to No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Hovland continued his stellar play at Pebble Beach where he broke the 72-hole amateur scoring record for a U.S. Open.

So it was clear, these guys entered professional golf as the most talented rookies. If there were a PGA draft, they would have been the top prospects. But college golf doesn’t get much air time, so their name recognition, especially Wolff’s, wasn’t even the golf equivalent to that of top prospects in other sports like Zion Williamson or Joe Burrow.

Professional debuts

And as such, both golfers had long odds (Hovland +6000, Wolff +8000) when they made their professional debuts at the 2019 Travelers Championship. As someone bullish on both golfers, I knew I wanted to bet on them for the foreseeable future and was prepared to do so until their odds become too short to justify by either A) playing well and having the market adjust or B) playing so poorly even their long odds weren’t appealing.

Hovland made the cut at the Travelers Championship and followed up with a T13 the next week. The market caught on and his odds shortened to numbers I was no longer comfortable backing.

While Hovland’s profile grew, Wolff struggled early with an MDF and a subsequent missed cut. His odds soon fell to +12500 ahead of the 3M Open, where Wolff would earn his first PGA victory in only his third tournament as a professional. Luckily, I didn’t put much stock in Wolff’s early failures and continued to buy low leading up to his victory.

Two golfers with similar comps are Bryson Dechambeau and Jon Rahm, both young golfers with prestigious accolades who helped golf bettors cash 50/1 tickets when they won within roughly a year of turning pro. Let’s just say you couldn’t find 50/1 golf odds on these guys for long. Both have since continued their rise on Tour and added hardware to their trophy cases.

Betting on first round leader

Betting on the first round leader (FRL) is most similar to a normal outright bet, only the winner (at least for betting purposes) is determined by the golfer with the lowest score at the conclusion of Round 1.

The smaller sample size puts more golfers in play. For FRL bets, I like to target long-shot golfers who have a high birdie percentage and are considered “bombers” off the tee. Hitting the ball far is an advantage, and these golfers usually have the ability to “go low” if they can put other pieces of their game together. You might not trust them to keep things afloat for 72 holes, but 18 holes is much more doable.

If you decide to bet on the first round leader, make sure to look at the weather. If a windy afternoon is in the forecast, narrow your bets to golfers who have morning tee times.

Additional outright golf betting tips

There’s more to betting on golf than just scouting young talent. Also:

  • Course history is overrated:  Many golf bettors put too much stock in course history, which could create value on golfers who you think have turned the corner since missing three consecutive cuts at a specific course.
  • Don’t let a hot (or cold) putter fool you: If you’re only looking at scores and tournament finishes, a hot putter can be a veil for bad play and cold putter can mask a swing that is in good form. Putting is the noisiest stat in golf and has little predictive value. Try to find opportunities to buy low on a golfer who has had poor finishes as a result of bad putting but has consistently gained strokes elsewhere.
  • Golf betting is up and down. Plan accordinglyThe variance we’ve discussed in this article means golf bettors can go on long streaks without winning, even if they’re doing things right. To navigate the treacherous yet rewarding golf waters:
    1. Setting the menu: Fill your weekly betting card with roughly 4-8 golfers, depending on their odds;
    2. Bankroll management: Practice conservative bankroll management, more so than you would use in other sports.
    3. Establish a betting “unit”: Instead of making each bet worth one unit (for example $20, $50 or $100), come up with a number you’re comfortable with — say, two units per betting card — and divide the units among your selections. Adjust as you see fit, maybe by betting a larger percentage of your weekly units on golfers with the shortest odds, leaving a smaller share to those with longer odds.

What are golf matchups, props, each-way bets?

Outright bets may be the most popular way to bet on golf, but they’re certainly not for the faint of heart. Golf matchups, props, and each-ways may better serve those who don’t see the lure in 50/1 long shots.

Golf matchups

In matchup bets, oddsmakers set the moneyline between two golfers in a given round and/or tournament.

Example: Tiger Woods -180 vs. Phil Mickelson +150 

Sportsbooks have tournament matchups as well as round-by-round matchups that they release throughout the four days.

For tournament matchups, the golfer with the lowest cumulative score after the final round is the head-to-head winner. For round matchups, the winner is determined only by the scores from the respective round.

Most golf matchups are based on the moneyline, but some sportsbooks will give you the option of betting on a spread between golfers, e.g., Woods -1.5 vs. Mickelson. 

Beware of multiway markets

There’s an unfortunate trend happening at sportsbooks, and golf bettors must beware and be careful. Some shops are turning twoway markets, such as head-to-head golf matchups, into multiway markets. So instead of betting on Tiger or Phil, you have a third option to bet on: a tie.

Where a tie normally results in a push, now it’s a win for the sportsbooks if you choose to bet on one of the two golfers. Shop around and find the two-way markets.

Golf props

Prop betting in golf isn’t as popular as it is for football or basketball. You can usually find props for whether there will be a playoff, or if a golfer will hit a hole-in-one. For what it’s worth, professional golfers have a 1-in-2,500 chance of hitting a hole-in-one on a par 3.

During majors, sportsbooks will broaden their prop menus to include options such as Who will be the low amateur? and Who will be the top golfer from X country? For season-long props you can usually bet on how many majors some of the top golfers will win during the year.

Each-way bets (E/W)

Each-way bets allow bettors to decrease variance by directing a portion of the bet toward the golfer winning outright and a portion of it on the golfer finishing inside a certain place. For the latter part, sportsbooks typically require the golfer to finish in the top five, though it may vary.

For example, you might bet $100 on Matthew Fitzpatrick to win the tournament at 75/1, and Fitzpatrick at 25/1 to finish in the top 5.

Each-way betting is essentially protection from a bad beat. You think finding yourself on the wrong side of a back-door cover is bad? Wait until you’re sweating a ticket with a potential 5000% return on a golfer who is in the final pairing on Sunday, only to see him buckle at the knees and finish runner-up. Now that is a bad beat.

The trade-off in an each-way bet is that your odds are reduced if the golfer does in fact win outright, but at least you won’t risk losing your appetite on a Sunday night.

Betting highlights of the PGA Tour season

The Masters, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, and Open Championship get most of the attention, but one of the best things about betting on golf is that it can be a year-around festivity.

In a normal season, the PGA hosts nearly 50 events as golfers travel across the country and around the globe to compete at some of the world’s most beautiful, and difficult, courses. Some of the softer markets are in the smaller tournaments. If you make the right golf betting picks you’ll have something to watch from Thursday to Sunday.

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