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PGA betting 101: How to bet on golf if you are new to the game

·Betting analyst
·6 min read
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As seasoned bettors, it’s easy to forget that there are new people being introduced to the market each day. With legalized betting launching in states like Arizona, New York and more recently Louisiana, there’s a new demographic of sports bettors that could find some tips helpful on the betting options available.

Let’s talk about golf and the PGA. Now, I’ll be honest and mention that I myself did not start wagering on PGA until 2020 when the pandemic hit. While others turned to Korean (KBO) baseball and Russian table tennis, I turned to the PGA. Table tennis? That was a hard pass for me. Although new to golf wagering, it was easy to hop into it because I’ve been playing golf for most my life. Perhaps you can use your personal experience as well.

Whether you’ve played golf or just want to bet on golf, these are the three most common betting options for the PGA.

To win (outright)

This is perhaps the most popular wager to make, simply making a prediction as to which golfer will win any given tournament. These are also typically the most difficult to predict. Most tournaments have 156 players and most events are stacked with some of the best ranked players, which is why you see odds anywhere from +1000 to +8000 or higher for an outright.

Take the Farmers Insurance Open in late January for example. Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the PGA rankings, was a +700 favorite to win the tournament. He did not win the tournament. Instead, it was Luke List who hoisted the trophy for his first career win. List had odds of 75-to-1 to win. Betting on an outright winner is fun and it’s absolutely exciting when you have a horse in contention on the final day, but it’s not a long-term profitable bet to make because it is not sustainable.

For this type of bet, I recommend taking your regular one-unit sized bet and wagering only a fraction of that on an outright, let’s say 5-10% depending on the odds and how many players you are backing. The longer the odds, the more players you are firing on, then the smaller the dollar amount should be. Think small risk for a big reward.

Jon Rahm reacts to barely missing his birdie putt on 18 during Round 4 of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Jan. 29. (Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Jon Rahm reacts to barely missing his birdie putt on 18 during Round 4 of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Jan. 29. (Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

To place (Top 20/10/5)

For this type of bet, you are wagering that a player will finish inside the top 20 or better. The better the place, the longer the odds. For example, Ryan Palmer was someone I liked to perform well in the Farmers Insurance Open.

His odds entering the tournament were:

Top 20: +300

Top 10: +600

Top 5: +1100

To Win: +6600

For myself, I tend to only stick with top-20 bets and not risk on top 10 or top five. Could a player finish better than top 20? Yes. Could you get a bigger payout by risking on a top 10 or a top five? Yes. However, if you are getting plus-money (even if +100) for a top 20, then you are getting value. It’s about cashing tickets.

For this type of bet, I recommend anywhere between a half unit and full unit depending on the odds.

Full tournament head-to-head

This is my favorite type of bet to make. Instead of backing a single player to do well in a 156-player field, the bet is to back a player to perform well against only one other player. When comparing the two players, you can weigh recent form more heavily. Plus, I tend to always favor the better iron player and short-game player. It could vary from course to course but a general rule of thumb for me is backing the better ball striker.

For this type of bet, a one-unit size works well because these are the typical (-110) to (-115) odds. Sometimes you’ll see (-120) or higher but I tend to stay away from anything that is above (-130). When it comes to betting on golf, there are few things greater than cashing your full tournament head-to-head ticket after just two days of golf played because the player you faded missed the CUT.

PGA stats to use for betting

I love stats. In the PGA, similar to MLB, there are so many stats to utilize. For golf, I find it’s better to keep it simple. There are three data points that I use week-after-week no matter the course.

Strokes Gained Putting (as it pertains to each putting surface)

The PGA is played on different courses across the country. Depending on the region, courses have different putting surfaces: Bermuda grass, bentgrass, paspalum and Poa annua. The greens really matter because there are players who are generally poor putters but are great on Bermuda grass, or great putters who play poorly on Poa annua. In football, I start first with quarterback protection versus quarterback pressure. In golf, I start first with putting surfaces.

Strokes Gained Approach

This is how well a player does with his irons. More often than not, I will back the better iron player. Putting can vary each week. It’s perhaps the most volatile stat line. However, a great iron player is typically constant. With some events, it helps to be better off the tee and not really as important to be great with your irons. However, for the most part, a great iron player is necessary for any course. Especially in a tournament where the winning score could be low. A good iron player could pin it close to the hole for a birdie opportunity.

Recent form

If I am backing a player for this week then I want that player to have done well last week. It's even better if they've been playing well for the last few weeks. Well for me means in the green for most strokes gained stats, fairly neutral putting (hovering around zero, not gaining or losing) and finishing at least top 25 or better. I also look for consistency. Backing Dustin Johnson was tough for a bit in 2021 because he would lose strokes off the tee one week then lose strokes around the green the next and lose strokes in some other part of his game after. He was good or bad in some stats and every week was different. Stability is key.

General tip: avoid over-committing

It’s so easy to fall in love with one player and be enticed to play a stack, which means you back someone to finish top 20, top 10, top 5, to win and even in the head-to-head market. OK, but if that player underperforms, there goes your bankroll. If you love a player, don’t spread him through every betting option. As mentioned earlier, if you are getting plus money on a top 20, then that’s value. Don’t feel the need to extend further. It’s about cashing tickets.