Welcome (back) to a new era in golf.
This week at The Players, the PGA Tour is making every shot from every player available live for digital consumption. A sea of cameras have been planted across the Stadium Course, making Dustin Johnson's final shot as accessible for fans at home as Jerry Kelly's first.
It's a bold initiative, and one the Tour originally launched at last year's event. Of course, that only lasted 18 holes before a global pandemic brought the tournament (and the sport) to a screeching halt for months. But now we're back at the Tour's flagship event, one boasting an elite field with a $2.7 million check awaiting the winner, and there won't be a single drive, chip or putt hidden from view.
There are a number of factors behind the re-launch, not the least of which is making the biggest tournament thus far in 2021 more accessible to at-home consumers in the midst of an ongoing health crisis that has limited in-person attendance this week here in Ponte Vedra Beach. But make no mistake, another significant motivator is the increased spotlight placed on mainstream gambling within the sport.
In the 12 months since we last left TPC Sawgrass with more questions than answers, the role of betting within pro golf has undergone a complete transformation. Perpetually lurking in the shadows, understood and sometimes acknowledged but rarely discussed, it's now featured in a prominent role. A big reason for that is the Tour's decision to embrace betting, opting to proactively define the role of gambling within the sport rather than reactively work to contain it. Since the Tour returned to competition in June, they have partnered with four different "official betting operators": DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and PointsBet. (PointsBet also has a partnership with NBC Sports.) Now when you scroll through a player's information page on the Tour website, there's a widget displaying his odds to win the current tournament placed just above his season-long strokes gained stats.
"It's just another way of keeping people engaged," said Jon Rahm. "I understand not everybody watching golf is a fan of every single player out there, right, and if you're watching a sport and you want to somehow stay engaged, betting is a great way to do it."
Ask anyone dabbling in golf action and they'll tell you that the depth of the sport is one of its most captivating traits. A head-to-head wager on Christiaan Bezuidenhout cashes just the same as one on Rory McIlroy. In DFS, it's often the sub-$7,000 players that push a roster across the line rather than the more popular stars priced above $10,000.
That all-encompassing approach is on display this week at TPC Sawgrass. With books offering tournament head-to-heads and Round 1 three-balls on a myriad of player combinations, most bettors have access to some sort of action on every player in the field. Now, they can tailor their streaming habits to their card. If you want to settle in for five hours of Doug Ghim, Alex Noren and Xinjun Zhang in the morning's first tee time, you can.
"It's something that's unavoidable," Rahm said. "It's been going on worldwide with every single sport, so why not? It's another element that makes it more exciting, and when it comes down to a Sunday afternoon, the last few holes, everybody is invested in who's going to win. At that point, there's a lot of people out there that have bets already. So it's only going to help make it more exciting on those Thursday, Friday maybe morning rounds, where the views are not as high as they could be."
The undertaking to produce this venture is a significant one for Tour HQ, and it's not a weekly staple at events. But expect it to become a more prominent feature in the coming months and years, as the Tour continues to ramp up its digital efforts in search of ways to cater to a diverse audience. And yes, betting is a big part of that and only getting bigger.
For now at least, savor the fact that this week you can watch your favorite win ticket go up in flames - one shot at a time.