In The Sports Betting Void, Golf’s Appeal Is Rising

For the time being, at least, regular PGA Tour events are rising out of their niche status to become betting action leaders.

Veteran oddsmaker Johnny Avello was among an unusually large group of U.S. bettors with a rooting interest Sunday in the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge.

The golf tournament held without spectators in Fort Worth, Texas, marked the return of a regular PGA Tour event for the first time in three months.

With a shrunken slate of traditional sports to contend with, the Schwab Challenge drew unprecedented betting action for a non-major golf tournament.

Avello was among those with a stake, not only professionally as DraftKings Sportsbook director of operations but also personally with a 35/1 wager he placed on Bryson DeChambeau with another sportsbook.

DeChambeau was left out of the tournament’s playoff due to a putt he missed by inches on the 72nd hole. Thousand more bettors had wagers on other golfers who narrowly missed out in an exciting final round won by Daniel Berger, who rewarded those backing him with a payoff of 50/1 or more.

“It’s a game where you miss by a couple inches,” Avello said over the phone when chuckling about his losing wager, but he was among sportsbook directors feeling plenty good about true golf’s return to their menu.

RBC Heritage boasts another strong betting field

When it comes to regular betting at both online and retail sportsbooks across the country, golf typically ranks well below football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and tennis. It has a small, core following among bettors, with the general public’s interest rising for the sport’s four major tournaments.

But these are not typical times. While the betting menu is broader now than it was two months ago, with the return of major European soccer leagues joining NASCAR and UFC fights, the betting normally possible in June on NBA and NHL playoffs and MLB regular season games remains on hold.

That means the PGA Tour can attract more attention than ever. Rush Street Interactive reported the first golf tournament since mid-May was the most popular U.S. sporting event bet over the weekend, attracting over three times the handle of the UFC Fight Night card on Rush Street’s BetRivers sites in multiple states.

The RBC Heritage tournament teeing off Thursday in Hilton Head, S.C., should be no different, with another strong field that includes the top five ranked players in the world among its 155 competitors.

More betting action than The Masters

John Sheeran, director of risk and trading for FanDuel, said golf normally represents perhaps 1% of the large sportsbook’s overall handle, competing for attention with other niche sports.

But two COVID-19-related, nationally televised charity matches held in May involving the sport’s stars demonstrated how golf can gain a lot more appeal if there’s little else to watch or bet on.

Sheeran said there was a lot of interest in the first of those events involving four PGA competitors, and then the betting action doubled for the second, “The Match: Champions for Charity,” involving Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and NFL quarterbacking legends Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

“The landscape and climate made a lot of people watch that maybe wouldn’t have watched normally,” he said. “The second one was bigger than a standard Monday night football game.”

And then, the first real tournament last weekend attracted double the handle of last year’s Masters tournament for FanDuel, he said, though that number is somewhat inflated by the operator having added more sites in the past year.

“I just think people are starved for live sports, and then you had four days of the PGA Tour being back, with a lot of the top golfers within three or four shots going into Sunday,” Sheeran said.

Normally, Sunday’s betting makes up 50-60% of a tournament’s handle, but he said the Schwab betting was closer to 70% due to the unusually close competition among a number of high-profile golfers.

It’s like a weekly futures bet

Among the appeal of golf to bettors is there’s a lot of time beforehand to assess an upcoming tournament, the events keep recurring weekly for most of the year, and there’s all kind of opportunities over four days to place new wagers.

Avello said the rising volume of golf betting on DraftKings isn’t just increased by the operator’s growing number of sites, compared to 2019. He said the level of recent golf action is “blowing away” past numbers, not just nudging them up.

“Golf is a futures bet that takes place every week,” observed Avello. “There’s a lot of good of really good golfers out there, and you can get really lucrative odds on some of these players.”

DraftKings, FanDuel, and other sportsbooks provide a bevy of betting options beyond just the outright winner. Among them, you can bet on the leader after the first round; who will win matchups between two or more designated golfers; the best finisher from a certain nationality; whether a golfer will finish in the top five, 10, 20, 30, or 40; and props such as whether there will be a playoff or hole-in-one.

And that’s just pre-tournament. All kinds of additional in-play bets are offered while competitors are on the course during the four days.

A zillion ways to back McIlroy

Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, is listed as the RBC Heritage favorite by FanDuel and DraftKings, at 12/1 at both sportsbooks.

The sites have the same four players behind him, with FanDuel offering slightly better payouts than its competitor, for DeChambeau at 15/1, Justin Thomas at 17/1, Jon Rahm at 19/1, and Xander Schauffele at 21/1.

But just to show the range of options, if you’re a McIlroy fan, these are among other ways to bet him at FanDuel:

  • +300 to finish top five
  • -125 to finish top 20
  • -280 to finish top 40
  • -122 to beat Thomas head to head
  • +2600 to lead after the first round
  • +410 to get a birdie or better on the 10th hole
  • -550 to make the cut
  • +300 to be the top finisher among 20 Europeans

DraftKings has some of those same wagering options for McIlroy, plus these, for good measure:

  • -150 to shoot under 69.5 in the first round
  • +225 to post a lower score in the first round than Collin Morikawa, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, or C.T. Pan
  • A payoff of 140/1 for a successful wager on McIlroy winning the tournament and DeChambeau finishing second.

Someone plans a shift to Patrick Reed

While there’s still a dearth of competition on the sports calendar for this weekend’s tournament, the unknown is what will happen to golf betting once the traditionally bigger sports return.

The three golf majors still on the calendar (the British Open was canceled for 2020) will get their share of attention when played in August, September, and November, but what about the every-week tournaments without the same star-studded fields — especially those held in late summer and fall with the potential to be up against football, basketball, hockey, and baseball simultaneously?

“I think it’s like any other aspect of life — if it’s new and you enjoy it and have a good customer experience, you’re more likely to go back to it,” Sheeran said.

“The gap is far too big for it close significantly” on the other sports, he said, “but we’ll take all the new fans we can get.”

He and Avello said new golf bettors would be wise to study up ahead of time on the players, courses, and fields, perhaps identifying a few competitors whose results haven’t matched with how well they’ve been striking the ball.

For Avello, if he’s betting this week to rebound from his near-miss (in this game full of near-misses) on DeChambeau, it might well be on Patrick Reed (listed 30/1 Wednesday by both DraftKings and FanDuel).

“Patrick Reed can play any course, he can hit long, he putts well — he’s just a good overall player,” Avello said. “I’ll shop around in Las Vegas where I live. The higher the odds I can find on him, the more it’ll appeal to me.”

Photo provided by Shutterstock


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