There are several ways to gamble on golf. Many choose to go the DFS route and compete against tens of thousands in a GPP in hopes their lineup climbs to the top of the leaderboard. Others prefer props to isolate specific situations with the tradeoff of a lower payout but a higher probability of success. And then there are betting on futures to try and win big by correctly picking the winner of an event. It’s one of the hardest bets to make in golf, especially in major championships where it’s tough to whittle down a list of four or five golfers from a pool of the best players in the world.
In order to bet smart on futures, one must develop a deep understanding not only of the form of every golfer coming in, but also how their skills translate to the golf course and how the golf course itself will play. In case you missed my analysis on Bethpage Black and what it should have in store for the field this week, click here for the golf course preview, and click here for a leaderboard analysis of tournaments held there.
Here are the golfers I feel are worthy of laying down a bet to win the 2019 PGA Championship (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag).
Brooks Koepka – 10/1: This was the moment where I raced to place a bet on Koepka to win the 2019 PGA Championship:
While Brooks took the high road here, he had to have been thinking “f**k that guy, I’m better than he is. I don’t hit it in the water on 12 and that’s my Green Jacket”. And that’s what makes Koepka great – he constantly has a chip on his shoulder. Whether it’s people unhappy that he beat Tiger Woods at the 2018 PGA Championship, or Brandel Chamblee calling to question his weight loss or if he’s one of the game’s elites, he takes his perceived slights and translates that to elite golf on the world’s biggest stage.
When I bet Koepka to win the 2019 PGA Championship, that was when he was at 15/1. But we sit here on the eve of the event and he’s no longer considered the underdog – at least according to the books. Right now he sits as the top favorite to win the event, just ahead of Dustin Johnson and Tiger at 11/1, and Rory at 12/1.
It’s stiff competition and the case can be made for all of them to win. Rory and DJ both have prodigious length, are playing in excellent form and won’t be as inhibited by the cold, damp conditions that others will be. And as for Tiger, well, I’m done doubting him. While he’s not as long as these other three are and he’s been a pretty bad bunker player this year, he’s the best long iron player in the world, and if those are working for him he should feast on the soft greens Bethpage has to offer this week.
But I’m sticking with my boy Brooks, a long time favorite of mine, even if I have a lot more neighbors on his island than I used to. I love his demeanor, I love how his game suits up to the golf course, and I love his form heading in. While everyone lit up Trinity Forest last week, seeing him 6th in the field in Strokes Gained – Tee-to-Green, 4th Off-the-Tee, 8h in Approach Shots, and 8th in putting got my attention. That’s an indication he is in prime position to defend his title.
Jon Rahm – 20/1: This weekend will go one of two ways for Jon Rahm:
- Scenario A – the long, cold, damp Bethpage Black suits Rahm’s game perfectly. With his ability to carve long fades off the tee and how well he hits his approach shots from 175+ yards away, he enjoys a relatively stress-free first three rounds and finds himself right in the thick of things on Sunday with a chance to capture his first major title.
- Scenario B – Jon Rahm catches a tough break to begin his opening round. His tee shot just catches the rough, but he has a very dicey lie and ends up in the bunker left of the green with his second. As a sub-par bunker player, he leaves himself 7 feet for par, which he just misses on the front end. He then lets this snowball for the rest of the round, constantly finding the native areas with loose drives and posts an opening round 74 to knock himself out of contention immediately.
Scenario B is a situation his backers have seen play out far too often, whether it be his meltdown at Erin Hills, or his meltdown this year at the Players Championship. Rahm still fights demons in his head that negatively impacts his all-world talent.
Still, when Rahm’s game is firing on all cylinders it is taylormade to translate well to Bethpage Black. He carries the ball high and far off the tee with little reliance on the ground for his driving distance. He hits towering irons that land softly into greens. And, at least at the moment, his putting is in good form as he’s averaging about a half stroke gained per round on the field.
While this year’s PGA Championship should play more like the difficulty of a U.S. Open, the PGA of America won’t set the golf course up with the intent to play tricks on the players. Every shot that is required to win the Wannamaker Trophy is right there for the taking, and it will simply come down to execution. At 20/1 odds, I like Rahm’s chances to go out there and do just that.
Rickie Fowler – 20/1: I can feel the eye rolls from the readers saying “Are we really doing this again? When will you learn Rickie is just never going to win a major”.
Let me attempt to make the case of why this year is different.
#1: Rickie comes into Bethpage Black in great form. Over his last two ShotLink measured tournaments he’s averaging 1.7 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, which include 0.9 shots gained off the tee and 0.6 shots gained on his approach shots. This also doesn’t include what he did at The Masters, where he gained 12.2 shots overall on the field. In fact, over his last 15 rounds he’s gained on average over two strokes a round on the field.
#2: Rickie has more pop than you might think. Despite his small frame, Fowler is averaging 296 yards of carry distance off the tee, good for 16th on the PGA Tour. That will be important as the soft fairways will not allow much rollout on tee-shots. Fowler has also been lights out on approach shots 175+ yards away. On the year he ranks 23rd in Proximity to the Hole on approach shots 175-200 yards, and 4th on the PGA Tour in proximity in approach shots >200 yards. That is a great combination tee-to-green for contenders this weekend.
#3: While the stats don’t bear it out in 2019, Fowler is traditionally one of the better scramblers in the world. If he shows positive regression in that category, then between that and his strong putting he will be a force in almost all areas of the game around Bethpage Black.
#4: Rickie has a good history at the golf course. He was leading the 2016 Barclays after three rounds, but a final round 74 sent him down to a disappointing T7 finish. He also finished a respectable T24 at Bethpage Black at the 2012 Barclays, and despite missing the cut at the 2009 U.S. Open as an amateur he did post a 68 in his second round.
#5: I always expected if Rickie was going to win a major it was going to come at a U.S. Open or an Open Championship where conditions are tough, the tournament is more of a grind and those who display consistent ball-striking like his will always find themselves in the mix. This year’s PGA Championship is going to play much tougher than the traditional set up played in August. Things could fall into place for Fowler by the end of Sunday if he finds himself hanging around the lead and a couple things go his way.
If you’ve been burned too many times by a string of failed bets on Rickie Fowler and want to take another pass, I don’t blame you. His list of victims who placed far too much faith in him is a long one. But if you’re still a Rickie truther who will always find a way to back him (looking at you SGP Host Ryan “Real Money” Kramer), take this as my official endorsement to go down the road with him one more time.
Tommy Fleetwood – 33/1: I don’t buy the narrative that the long flight over from England is negatively going to impact him (or anyone who made that flight). Sure the European Tour crew probably all got after it on the plane over and were feeling a little groggy the following morning, but whatever hangover they had from the party will be long gone by the time Thursday rolls around.
If this were a normal PGA Championship set up, I wouldn’t be including Fleetwood in this space (especially with his disappointing showing at The Masters). But because this event feels like it’ll play more like a U.S. Open, I can’t count out a consistent, quality ball-striker like he is.
While not the longest player in the world, Fleetwood is just long enough not to let the cold, damp conditions put him too far back in the fairway for his approach. He averages 287 yards of carry off the tee, which is good enough for this week. Even if faced with longer approach shots, Fleetwood has been very accurate from this range this year. Fleetwood ranks 36th in proximity on approach shots 175-200 yards, 22nd from 200-225 yards and 18th from 225-250 yards on the PGA Tour in 2019. And with how soft the greens are this week, he should have no trouble holding them from this range for good scoring chances.
To put the cherry on top, Fleetwood is a marvelous scrambler both out of the rough and getting up and down out of bunkers, where he ranks 16th and 2nd, respectively, in those two PGA Tour scrambling categories this year. He’ll need to find some consistency with his putting this week, but he has more than enough tools to be a major player down the Back Nine on Sunday.
- Justin Rose – 20/1: Rose’s missed cut at the Masters was very surprising and discouraging. But he bounced back nicely at the Wells Fargo Championship and he remains as one of the best long iron players and scramblers in the world. Where he’ll have to be better is off the tee, where he’s only gaining 0.15 strokes on the field over his last three rounds. It’s more an issue with accuracy than length off the tee, but if he’s finding more fairways he should be a contender to win his second major title.
- Bryson DeChambeau – 40/1: This one is a little more feel based as he has not played well for the last few months. But as I mapped out Bethpage Black on Google Earth, his name popped into my mind as someone I felt would do well there. He possesses enough pop off the tee to not get overwhelmed by the length of the golf course. He’s analytical enough to compensate for the elevation changes, how the colder temperatures will affect carry distances, etc. He also won at Ridgewood CC last September, which is also a fellow A.W. Tillinghast classic. Finally, while he missed the cut in his last tournament he still gained 2.4 shots on the field tee-to-green at the RBC Heritage. His problems that week were with his putter, and the greens at Bethpage Black aren’t complex. As someone who normally lets the spreadsheet dictate my bets, backing Bryson this week comes from my heart.
- Patrick Cantlay – 45/1: Cantlay found himself finally in contention for a major title back at Augusta, but he flew a bit too close to the sun and limped home to the finish. Nevertheless, Cantlay comes into the event checking a lot of boxes on contenders to win the event – long off the tee, accurate from long distances on his approach shots, and is a good enough scrambler to navigate around the tough rough and bunkers around each green. In order to win, however, he must have a good driving week and do much better than his 56.1% driving accuracy performance in 2019.
- Louis Oosthuizen – 66/1: He’s performed well over his last three tournaments, as he’s gained 20 total strokes on the field over his last 12 rounds. This mark would be much better had he not tanked in the final round of the Masters. Nevertheless, Oosthuizen has risen to the occasion in tougher scoring tournaments on the strengths of his long irons and his scrambling. He’s a little short off the tee and he occasionally struggles with his putter, but as long as he finds himself on the putting surface in regulation he should have no trouble navigating the flat greens at Bethpage Black.