The biggest challenge facing any “good” PGA Tour golfer who wants to become “great” is not perfecting his swing, nor the use of his putter, nor driver, and not even his mental endurance and patience…though that last factor comes in a close 2nd.
Greatness is about honing his game for the big-time. You can shoot 59s in as many practice rounds or Mickey Mouse Bahamas Classics you like, but major championships consist of 16 (or maximum 17) scorecards per season. Peaking on those days is what separates golf’s icons from its also-rans.
By training himself to peak almost exclusively during the majors, Brooks Koepka has established himself as the top linksman in the world in 2019. Tiger Woods, this year’s unlikely Masters champion, is rightfully compared to Jack Nicklaus. But Koepka has accomplished something that Jack was rarely able to do. Nicklaus has stated that his worst years came when he tried too hard at certain tournaments. Brooks shows up and wins effortlessly whenever he decides to turn it on.
I’ve written that golf has become a sport of great champions once again – not simply a sport of celebrities who win some incrementally-superior number of Tour events for a brief time. Gone are the “random” major-championship results like Lee Janzen and Scott Simpson winning U.S. Opens.
I still believe that with the summer in rearview – except for that whole Shane Lowry thing at the British Open.
Lowry won the Open Championship at long futures odds, whereas here at Legit Gambling Sites we were silly enough to handicap golfers in the 10-to-1 or 15-to-1 range. Koepka and other stars failing to pull away during the easy Thursday and Friday rounds is an example of how circumstances can throw even the most-sensible futures bet into the waste bin…even when players must only reach the top 10.
Sentimental gamblers who wager on celebrity-athletes were not as disappointed by the events at Augusta National in 2019. Not by a long shot…or a Tiger’s claw.
Tiger Woods and Breathless Golf Betting Markets
It’s not so uncommon to see the Vegas markets overreact to short-term results in golf, just as the media anoints or writes-off a PGA Tour pro far too often.
We all remember Sergio Garcia’s indoctrination as “Tiger’s rival” back in the early 2000s, mostly based on a few tournament outcomes. When Garcia never held a candle to Woods at the major championships over a 20-year span, pundits went right on skipping cold showers after a hot streak by a golfer.
Bryson Dechambeau was very recently the “next big deal” but now he’s 1 of a bunch of young players who could come into the limelight. It doesn’t matter right now. Brooks rules the day.
But in April, Tiger Woods ruled the day. An inexplicable quirk in Tiger’s career prior to his comeback was that he had never come-from-behind to win a major title. He had fallen behind a time or 2 and regained the lead, but only ever won from the front off the 1st tee. When Woods was off his game he rarely played in the final 5 groups on Sunday, but when he had the goods, other A-list players could forget it. In his 40s and with surgeries and addictions behind him, the legendary long-hitter had to learn how to play within himself and use a jewel maker’s touch to overcome a length disadvantage.
Tiger was masterful for almost all of 72 holes at the Masters, and his “come on baby!” approach at the Par-3 16th hole on Sunday will live in lore forever. But most impressive was the number of stiff challenges Woods battled successfully on the final 18. Koepka was in the fold. Tony Finau brought distance and energy to-burn onto the 3rd round leaderboard, and Francisco Molinari was threatening to simply go lower than anyone else on a friendly scoring week at -13 under par.
Instead of gambling and losing, Tiger calculated and won, playing a brilliant methodical game of golf to the very end and earning his most long-awaited Green Jacket.
There’s not much to report about the U.S. Masters from a futures betting POV – I’m happy for the people who were loyal to Tiger but it’s not like they got the best price. Bookmakers and the gambling public had already witnessed Woods out-playing his Las Vegas odds at the PGA Championship. Handicappers decided he could win again – then that he couldn’t – then that he could.
The overreaction roller-coaster continued to affect Tiger’s markets post-Masters triumph. He was given absurdly short lines to prevail in the PGA at Bethpage Black, a course which no longer suited him. Pebble Beach, the 2019 U.S. Open venue, was similarly a new challenge for Woods’ new skill-set.
Yet Tiger was offered at 10-to-1 or thereabouts to win both events at various times.
Golf is a sport of forbearance, in which a player’s rhythm is harder to read than an 18th green.
PGA Championship: A New King Cements His Throne
Bethpage Black is a layout for the longest, kingliest hitters, and Dustin Johnson seemed like a winner to me. My pre-tournament pick was foiled not by the relatively-easy greens in New York but rather by a dynamic champion who applied too much pressure for D.J. to handle.
Johnson made a charge at Koepka, a prohibitive leader on the front 9 on Sunday, as the final afternoon of the 2019 PGA Championship wore on. D.J. had played the impossible Par 4 15th hole in an astounding 4 under par and looked to threaten Koepka’s lead late in the round. But he overcooked a pair of crucial approach shots on the final few holes, and once a ball had soared into the back rough on 17 Johnson’s chances were finished.
World #1 Koepka was a sturdy futures pick at around (+1200) prior to the tournament, which fell prior to the U.S. Open and the British Open this season in a new marketing ploy for the PGA. After winning the 2nd major of the year, the 29-year-old Floridian threatened again to prevail at Pebble Beach.
But a funny thing happened – by late in the season, critics said that the flippant Koepka wasn’t winning enough non-major tournaments to become a superstar. That made his odds-to-win PGA Tour stops longer even as his futures lines to win the big ones shrank.
As if to poke pundits in the eye, he showed up less than an hour before his tee time before whipping the field at the recent St. Jude Invitational.
Forget any Jack Nicklaus comparisons. I’d compare the dynamic, dispassionate Brooks Koepka to an old-time golfer like Walter Hagen.
Hagen was a deceiver, a drunkard, and the greatest match-play golfer in history. The PGA Championship was match play in the 1920s, and Sir Walter won them again and again as a matter of habit. Brooks may not have a hustler’s Ph.D. in sports psychology at his disposal as Hagen did. But in stroke play tournaments, the pair have comparable styles of winning. Hagen would show up at the 1st tee with a tuxedo on after a swanky all-night party, and crush the field.
I consider Koepka to be a solid futures bet at 7-to-1 to win any tournament, or at 3-to-1 to finish in any top 10. Lines shorter than that may be considered – but it is true that the phenom knows exactly how to peak for the majors.
Pebble Beach, and Weather That Never Was
Gamblers and greenskeepers alike must take into account the weather whenever the U.S. Open comes to Pebble Beach since wind and icy rain can turn pleasant scoring conditions into a nightmare.
If the USGA sets up the course to be par-defending difficult on its own, the natural Monterrey elements could take over and drive the winner to an embarrassing 10 over par. If the groundkeepers assume that Pebble Beach will be played in ultra-windy conditions and set up reachable hole locations to compensate, the winner might embarrass the storied course given 4 days of sunny calm.
So the tournament hedges its bets, and this season there was no nightmarish wind at Pebble. Players were allowed to score in the 60s on all 4 days, and Tiger Woods finished well in the pack. His -2 would typically have been good enough for a top-5 finish at a U.S. Open.
Brooks Koepka was right in it on Sunday again, which reassured bettors who were still buying-in to his Wednesday lines at 5-to-1. But ultimately Koepka could not catch up to maiden-major winner Gary Woodland.
Who knows how the tournament would have wound up if the Pacific had gotten angry. Instead, I was a little angry by the time the British Open rolled around. Was my hypothesis of a “new era of great golf champions” coming apart as Tour pros simply took turns leading majors?
It was about to get even worse in Ireland…for many of the same reasons.
Passive Portrush: British Open Betting Turns Ordinary
If the Open Championship is ever overrated, it’s because the Royal & Ancient trumpets the tournament as some kind of ultimate test of golf. The Claret Jug winner is dubbed the “Champion Golfer of the Year,” which is terrific and all, but sometimes he’s not really the best player that year…merely someone who scored the lowest over 4 rounds.
Shane Lowry is an example of such a champion. No disrespect to the native product, who deserved the rich honors after going -15 for the event at Royal Portrush.
But I had warned of the course being too easy to play unless a tropical storm somehow assaulted an Irish links in the summertime, with too many drive-and-pitch holes and simple setups.
Sho’ nuff it was a birdie fest. And sometimes, the guy who is just on that week can win those with ease. Lowry pulled away from players like Jordan Spieth, who made a brief Friday charge, and Koepka (who else) by going submarine-low in lovely Round 3 conditions.
The gambler’s experience mostly suffered as the 2019 British Open turned into just another ordinary weekend in Europe, watching a hot golfer kill the field on a nickel-and-dime layout with hearty smiles and flicks to the green.
It’s time for a reckoning, I reckon. Lowly was among many potential sleepers in the 25-to-1 to 50-to-1 category. Is the much-ballyhooed superior depth of 21st century golf bearing down on stormtroopers like Koepka, McIlroy, Johnson, and even Tiger Woods? Are major-title futures wagers on the game’s big shots just not worth it when so many players have a shot?
Long-Term Perspective in Golf Betting
When markets are found at 10-to-1, it means that the gambler is wise to consider the line unless the player would really lose 10 times in a row. In any PGA Tour or major championship logjam, are you betting against Brooks Koepka at 10-to-1 on Friday night? Not me.
That doesn’t mean that Koepka, Woods and other icons of the modern era don’t have to meet challenges Walter Hagen never faced. The field is always deeper now. More golfers take physical fitness seriously. The 20 MPH winds of Royal Portrush were a cakewalk for the burly Lowry.
The aristocrats won 2 out of 4 times in 2019, and in golf that’s plenty. Big Jack would have given anything to win 2 out of 4 majors every season.
So it’s definitely not time to give up on golf’s elite cast of characters. Koepka hangs around the lead at majors a lot – that’s how he wins them. Betting on Brooks will involve a lot of dramatic close calls but very, very few Friday afternoon bummers.
From a wide-view lens and not the breathless seesaw of the media’s narrative, it’s just a fine player working the kinks out.
Meanwhile, if hunting for sleepers like Woodland and Lowry is your thing, be sure to consider picking out more than 1 futures line and chopping-up units if necessary.
Even as 2nd-tier Tour pros exhibit sky-high ceilings, their floor is still lower for any performance than that of the highest-ranked players. Picking out a single long-shot line will end in disappointment often, so collect a “stable” of reasonable-payoff bets and cheer for a whole team of upstarts.