The way betting advice is usually written, it’s as if readers are looking for long-term stock market tips. Where’s the value in a list of 2-to-1 and 3-to-1 markets? How can 5-innings bets on Major League Baseball be carefully laid out to bring a 20% return on investment? Is it possible to move your winning % on the gridiron from 54% to 55% in a single season?
All well and good. Career gamblers can use every “system” to try to raise their monthly income, and recreational bettors prefer winning small bets to losing big ones. But like “losses disguised as wins” built into modern slot machines, sportsbooks are perfectly happy to let most players while away their time picking one (+150) wager over another. Nothing changes all that much, and the vig is what it is.
Let’s open our minds. There’s another category of wagering that I like to call PLC, or Possible Life-Changer bets. Gambles in which a small % of a small stake is placed on a long-odds sleeper to win or finish among the leaders. Not a horse racing superfecta, which is more akin to playing the lottery. Just a simple bet on a (human) winner that costs little and could produce a jackpot.
If the PLC bet pays off, it can change a lifestyle. $20 becomes $2000 at 100/1 payout. The initial $20 paid to the casino might reduce your pizza deliveries for a week. The $2000 in winnings – if it comes – can help purchase a new pontoon boat.
Major golf championships are a prime opportunity for PLC wagering. Hype and recent memory drives the narrative, causing good players to be installed as super-longshots.
The gamblers who predicted Willett’s win and bet more than a Coca-Cola got to do a lot more than go fishing with their winnings.
But making the right call on a sleeper from a field of 100+ can feel like finding a needle in a grass bunker. Where to begin? At the U.S. Open, it’s usually all about the golf course.
Short Irons at Shinnecock Hills
The USGA was hash-tagged in a short promo on Twitter earlier this week, advertising the U.S. Open alongside footage of practice rounds. The length and difficulty of the course’s approach shots are being marketed as worse than the traffic on Long Island.
“Man, we’re gonna wear out the long irons this week,”
said a player to his caddie in the ad. But it’s a lie. A fairy tale. Repeated once a year by golfers and course officials who love to impress the difficulty of the Open on the viewing public.
Indeed the U.S. Open is difficult. But this one won’t be full of 3-iron approach shots for the powerful pros. Those days are long gone. The gear, the golf balls, the weight-training have turned today’s linksmen into rocket scientists.
The 3rd, 4th, and 6th holes at Shinnecock Hills are Par 4s of between 475 yards and 500 yards long. That’s a driver and a pitching wedge for Dustin Johnson. Officials could probably make every Par 4 700 yards long and D.J. would still hit a driver and a wedge. It’s what he does.
It’s true that a 500-yard hole punishes an errant drive worse than a traditionally “short” Par 4 (they’re all short for today’s PGA pros) but at the same time, we’re looking to pick a winner. No long-shot winner candidate can hit into the rough often and win anyway.
A steep underdog who wins the 2018 U.S. Open will hit long accurate drives, play finesse shots to the green with mid-to-short irons and wedges, and then putt like crazy. Forget the long irons. It’s probably going to come down to an even flatter stick.
With those factors in mind, who are some sleepers at more than 50/1 odds who can pull it off?
Matt Kuchar (+5500 Odds-to-Win at Bovada Sportsbook)
“Kooch” is quietly one of the more tragic stories in golf. As a youngster, he played very well in a couple of big tournaments. But he made the mistake of allowing his father to caddie. Suffice to say Kuchar’s pop was an over-enthusiastic cheerleader who didn’t know when to quit making noise.
Justin Leonard was the first pro to complain, causing Leonard to be “fried, baked, roasted and toasted” by the media (as Tom Kite described it). Kuchar wore a gigantic grin all around the golf course in those days, but veterans who were paired with the Georgia Tech student weren’t laughing.
Once on the driving range, Jeff Sluman walked up to Tom Watson with a baseball cap cinched around his head and a goofy grin on his face, and said,
“Hey there Mr. Watson. My name’s Matt Kuchar. Gee, I think you’re a great player Mr. Watson. Do you think I can play with Justin Leonard someday?”
Tiger Woods, who was practicing nearby, giggled for half an hour.
Matt Kuchar is a human being, and it had to hurt. He fought back against the ribbing like a true pro and carved out a nice career on the PGA Tour. But despite out-playing a plurality of professionals on the biggest stages, he has never won a major championship.
Betting on Kooch in 2018: Sensible Not Sentimental
It’s never a good idea to recommend a bet based on sentiment. We’d all love to see Kooch win a major before he moves on to the Senior Tour. But that’s not why I’m recommending this 55/1 wager.
Instead, I’m touting a futures bet on a player who was a combined 18 under par in 16 rounds at the majors last season. The 39 year old finished in the top 10 in not 1, not 2, but 3 majors last year, coming in 2nd in the British Open and 4th at The Masters. He hasn’t missed a cut at the U.S. Open since 2009 at Bethpage Black…a course where brute strength is called for above all.
Kuchar is known for his mid and long-iron play. If he drives the ball well this week, don’t expect to see much more than a 5 iron come out of his bag on all but the Par 5s. But he can play the short irons too, the crucial factor from the fairway at Shinnecock Hills.
His main obstacles to winning the tournament will be psychological – finding a way to focus and sink enough putts on the greens, while not getting the yips thinking about close misses of the past.
Kuchar putted very well at The Memorial in early June, shooting a 67 on Sunday. He’ll tee off in the early morning on Thursday at Shinnecock, a good chance to play on soft, perfect greens and get a leg up on the field before the weekend.
Ian Poulter (+12500)
Poulter is another golfer whose extremely long odds for the U.S. Open are mystifying. He’s not too old to win, only 42 years old as of his tee time tomorrow morning. His form isn’t bad at all, having gone a combined 33 under par in his last 3 PGA tournaments.
Like Kuchar, Poulter has never won a major championship despite some close calls and top 5 finishes. That might have as much to do with his futures odds as anything else. But 125-to-1? That’s too long, even with longer (and younger) players to beat in New York.
The Englishman isn’t averaging a billion yards off the tee – he rarely does – and his Greens-in-Regulation could stand to improve bigly. But U.S. Open champions like Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino and Curtis Strange have proven over the years that need a club or 2 more from the fairway isn’t a big deal if you’re playing the kind of smart and accurate golf the USGA demands.
Ian Poulter has the game to win the U.S. Open at Shinnecock. Even if he hadn’t been outstanding in his last trio of tournaments, the odds alone would make him a decent bet to win it all.
Adam Scott (+6600)
The popular Aussie is one more PGA Tour veteran whose odds seem to underestimate both his current form and his real chances to win.
The story of Scott’s career is simple. He’s a major champion (the 2013 U.S. Masters) and has double-digit top 10 finishes in the 4 biggest tournaments. His tee-to-green play is so fantastic that if he could putt like Nicklaus or Palmer, he’d have won 5 or 10 majors by now, but his putting is feast or famine.
Nothing has changed from tee box to fringe in ‘18. Scott is in quality form having shot 68, 64 and 65 on Sunday afternoons at The Players Championship, the Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational respectively. He’s averaging about 300 yards off the tee and is hitting fairways and greens.
As for putting? It’s always a crap-shoot with the Australian, but there are signs that it’s coming around just in time for the biggie. At Colonial, Scott sank several weekend birdie putts on long-ish and winding holes which are similar to the challenge Shinnecock presents. He didn’t make a bogey on any of the final 31 holes of the tournament. That’s a sign of good work on the greens.
In fact, Scott’s biggest weakness this year has been sand saves, at which he is a miserable 50%. But it’s like Johnny Miller said after shooting 63 at Pinehurst despite legendarily long, gnarly rough.
“When you’re shooting 63,” Miller said, “you’re not in the rough.”
If Adam Scott wins the U.S. Open this weekend – and he’s got a decent shot to do it – it won’t be while playing from sand bunkers. His sand save % might be an important factor in 3-balls bets, but not when it comes to a futures bet on the whole enchilada.
Conclusions and Other 2018 U.S. Open Sleepers
Of the 3 players listed above, Adam Scott probably has the most solid chance to prevail on Sunday. His tee-to-green game is almost unmatched when it’s clicking.
His odds to win are so long at 125/1 that a $10 bet produces more than a grand on the winner. Kooch, meanwhile, is a fine sleeper pick to win outright but probably an even better 3-balls bet at (+170) against Bryson DeChambeau and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
When looking around for other names, skip past pure power hitters like Bubba Watson. Watson’s length won’t help him eagle any of the Par 5s at Shinnecock, and his failure to be perfectly accurate with the driver will ensure lots of nasty 175+ yard shots out of rough and bad angles.
Instead, look for a player who combines an adequate amount of power with a large amount of finesse. Tiger Woods oddly fits that bill at this stage in his career. But in the “honorable mention” long-shot sleeper category, look at 165 lb. Martin Kaymer at (+15000) or Si Woo Kim, also at (+15000).
Happy PLC hunting!