With the new condensed PGA Tour schedule, we’re now on the verge of the final major of the 2019 season. But if recent history suggests a pattern, both fans and gamblers will be given a treat as this tournament has offered some of the most enjoyable, memorable and thrilling duels this decade. This week the Claret Jug will be contested at Royal Portrush for the 148th Open Championship.
In my opinion, the Open Championship is the most well run major in golf. Unlike it’s rules-setting counterpart across the Atlantic, the R&A tries its best to avoid controversy and let the golf course play however mother nature intends it to play. If conditions are ripe for scoring, they’ll set up the golf course to produce a winning score well under par. If conditions are tough and demanding, they’ll let the golf course befuddle the players accordingly.
Therefore, it is vital for a gambler to understand the golf course and how mother nature will impact it this week. That will give clues as to where the winning score will be by the end of the weekend and what types of golfers will succeed or falter.
Here’s everything to know about the 148th Open Championship before playing a bet.
As with all major championships, the best players in the world will be making an appearance this week at Royal Portrush. The elite players in the field gained an automatic exemption into the Open Championship via their performance last year, their claim as a past champion or their place in the Top 50 in the Official World Rankings.
A large portion of the field, however, is stocked with players who call the European Tour their primary professional circuit. This include players who finished inside the Top 30 in the Race to Dubai standings in 2018 (the European Tour’s version of the FedEx Cup). Notable players included in this group include Russell Knox (who splits his time evenly between the PGA and European Tours), Thorbjorn Olesen, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Lee Westwood and Danny Willett.
While there is an “open” component that allows amateurs to compete, most golfers play their way into the major by the Open Qualifying Series. This includes a dozen worldwide events (mostly National Opens) where players can play their way in based on their performance at the event. Notable players who have played their way into the Open via the qualifying series are Abraham Ancer (Australian Open), Jazz Janewattananond (Singapore Open), Sungjae Im (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Keith Mitchell (Arnold Palmer Invitational), Adam Hadwin (Canadian Open), Graeme McDowell (Canadian Open), Nate Lashley (Rocket Mortgage Classic) and Bernd Wiesberger (Irish Open).
While the European Tour does track Strokes Gained statistics, its data is very closely guarded and only available primarily to media outlets who cannot share data for public consumption. The PGA Tour is much more accommodating to tournament-by-tournament data and allow websites like Datagolf to analyze and release the data publicly. Gamblers and bettors will have to treat these players with special care and rely on some more rudimentary statistics to weed out the contenders and the pretenders at Royal Portrush.
The Golf Course
Making things a little more difficult for gamblers this week is the overall lack of golf course data available for Royal Portrush. It last hosted the Open Championship in 1951, and after the 2012 Irish Open it underwent a significant renovation. This involved the creation of new bunkers, new tee boxes, new greens, and even two new holes.
Royal Portrush first opened in 1888, then known as The Country Club and was a nine hole track. One year later it was expanded to 18 holes and hosted its first championship (the Irish Amateur Championship) in 1892. Three years after that, the club was formally renamed Royal Portrush and became the first golf course to host the British Ladies Championship outside of England.
In 1929, Harry Colt redesigned the original 18 and renamed it the Valley Links, and designed a new championship layout known as the Dunlace, which will play host to the Open Championship in 2019. Over the last few years, however, the Dunlace has undergone a significant transformation in order to best test the greatest players in the world and help modernize the track for the advancement of golf technology. Notable enhancements to its existing holes include additional bunkering on the 1st, moving back the 2nd green 40 yards, three new bunkers added to the landing area on Hole No. 5, and the creation of a new tee box on 12 so it can play as a Par 5.
The biggest change on the golf course, however, was utilizing land previously on the Valley Links golf course and creating two new holes – the Par 5 7th and the Par 4 8th.
Here’s the Average Golfer, who takes on these two new holes as well as the famous 5th at Royal Portrush. This video gives a great perspective of how to navigate Royal Portrush tee to green:
There were two primary benefits to creating these new holes on the Dunlace, and both are primarly for the enjoyment of the spectators and the viewers. The 7th and the 8th are both cut towards the ocean and into the sand dunes by the beach, creating a fantastic landscape for the spectators and will look great on television.
The second reason is that the final two holes at Royal Portrush were often considered very bland. These two holes replace the old 17th and 18th, making the former 14th-16th holes as the finishing stretch. These holes provide a great closing test that can easily yield both birdies and double bogeys.
16th Hole – Par 3, 236 Yards
The overhead view of this hole doesn’t do justice how gnarly it is going to play this week. Aptly named “Calamity Corner”, this 236 yard Par 3 plays both uphill and into the prevailing south wind.
In 1951, four time Open Champion Bobby Locke took one look at this hole, said screw it and bailed out left every round to make sure the ball stayed up. Though he managed to get up and down for par every time, doing so is not a cake walk.
Those who take on the flag could be in for a reward or a severe punishment. Anything short and right lands in some very nasty rough some 10-15 feet below the putting surface. Anyone who lands in there who manages to even find their ball is almost guaranteed to add at least a bogey to their scorecard.
17th Hole – Par 4, 408 Yards
While nicknamed Purgatory, this hole could provide plenty of rewards for the daring and the bold. The tee box sits 25 feet above the putting surface, and about 292 yards into the fairway the hole begins to slope downhill towards the green. Players have the opportunity to hit the downslope and run the ball all the way to the green for a chance at eagle and an absolute game changer to the tournament.
Players must be precise on this hole, though, as heavy fescue rough awaits to gobble up tee shots well right, and a right to left sloped fairway can funnel balls into a small pot bunker 346 yards off the tee. Anyone who finds themselves in this bunker will have their hands full just to salvage par
18th Hole – Par 4, ,474 Yards
The tee box was pushed back to put drivers in the hands of most hitters. The optimal placement off the tee is towards the left side of the fairway to give the best look into the green. Because the fairway sits about 20 feet below the tee box, some of the longer hitters will opt to take a three wood. That should give them an advantage on this hole as they can still put themselves in Position A with a more accurate club off the tee. From there, the long approach into the green must be precise, as anything missing left will bound down into a collection area and lead to a tough up and down. Nevertheless, those who show a great command on their ball striking can walk away from this hole with a birdie and end their round on a high note.
For more information about Royal Portrush, including the terrain and what the golf course will throw at the players tee to green, I highly recommend watching this video from The Course Reports. It’s about 20 minutes long, but I couldn’t sum up Royal Portrush as well as he has, especially for agronomy nerds.
Last week, I covered some general parameters on what qualities leads to success on links-style golf courses and the Open Championship itself. For a refresher of this analysis, click here.
In terms of anything specific to apply to Royal Portrush itself, one must first look at the weather forecast to determine what the scoring will be for the week.
Weather Forecast (courtesy of AccuWeather.com):
- Thursday AM: Partly Sunny w/ Spotty Showers, 61 Degrees, Winds 7-10 MPH from West
- Thursday PM: Partly Sunny w/ Spotty Showers, 62 Degrees, Winds 8-10 MPH from Northwest
- Friday AM: Cloudy with Showers, 62 Degrees, Winds 6-10 MPH from East-Southeast
- Friday PM: Cloudy with Showers, 63 Degrees, Winds 8-12 MPH from North-Northeast
- Saturday Daily Forecast: Cloudy w/ Morning Showers, High 67 Degrees, Winds 7-13 from South-Southeast
- Sunday Daily Forecast: Periods of Sun and Clounds, High 67 Degrees, Winds 13 MPH with Gusts to 30 MPH
The first thing to consider with the forecast is if any particular side of the tee time draw has a significant advantage, which is a key component to DFS strategy. Based on the forecast as of now, I would give a slight edge to players in the Thursday PM/Friday AM tee times. While all tee times have the threat of rain, the wind conditions are slightly more favorable for those holding the Thursday PM/Friday AM tee times. It also looks as though the winds will gradually shift mid-round on anyone playing throughout the afternoon, which may confuse some players. The advantage looks to only be slight, so use this strategy as a tie breaker and don’t roster a clearly inferior player over a superior one with a slightly worse tee time.
The next component to consider is how the weather will impact scoring throughout the tournament. For the first three rounds, scoring is shaping up to be quite good. The governing factor for links golf is wind and how firm the golf course is. Though the video above reports that Royal Portrush is playing firm and drains well, anytime a links golf course has little wind and has been well hydrated by mother nature it can take a bit of fire out of it. Northern Ireland has received a lot of rain during the spring and early summer, and with more rain in the forecast the golf course will be a little more forgiving than if it was bone dry. That will help the players with their distance control on approach shots and make it easier for their tee shots to stay in the fairway. With these conditions for the first 54 holes, that should create dart board conditions for the players. I’d expect a bunched up leaderboard with the 54 hole leader somewhere around -13.
But that Sunday forecast terrifies me. Anytime you get winds blowing 15-30 MPH on a links style golf course it’s going to create absolute havoc. We saw a similar situation at Carnoustie last year where wind conditions were relatively benign over the first three rounds, and then the winds kicked up on Sunday to put the leaderboard into a blender. In the aftermath of the wreckage, it was Francesco Molinari who came from behind to win the war of attrition.
It should make for a very interesting Sunday if this weather report holds, but there’s a nice gambling angle to take here. If your book offers a prop like “Will the 54 Hole Leader Win the Tournament” or “Will a Member of the Final Group win the Tournament” prop, pound the “No” side of this. The first three days should produce a low scoring tournament with a very bunched up leaderboard. There should be 8, 9, or 10 or more players within shouting distance of the lead heading into the final round. Normally the “no” side of this prop will be given plus odds before the tournament, but with the final round shaping up to be very windy I’d want to be on that side of the prop and hope for absolute chaos. It also could provide an opportunity for someone to take the “field” against the 54 hole leader if a gambler has struck out on most of their pre-tournament futures picks.
With a weather report like this, it’s probably best to lay off any pre-tournament props that affect things like the winning score or “54 Hole Leader vs. Field” props until the last possible moment. The weather in Northern Ireland is very unpredictable, and if the forecast significantly improves for Sunday that will change one’s perspective on how to bet those props.
In terms of the golf course itself, Royal Portrush plays longer than most Open Championship venues have on the scorecard. It’s just under 7,350 yards long, making it the third longest golf course on the Open Championship Rotation behind only Carnoustie and Turnberry. Differentiating itself from others on the roto, however, is how much elevation change there is throughout the golf course tee to green. While elevation changes are a hallmark of links golf, most golf courses on the Open Championship rotation see very little elevation change. At Royal Portrush, some holes devate 20-30+ feet tee to green, with collection areas and greens sometimes sitting several feet above or below a player’s approach shot.
At many Open Championship venues, a player can use the ground to run the ball up to the green by perfectly navigating the slopes and swails of the golf course. At Royal Portrush, however, many greens are elevated and have a quadrant nature that feature large swails and humps separating each section. It’ll be a little more of an aerial game this week for one’s approach shots. Targeting players with a strong command of ones irons was already a vital part of a gambling strategy, but at Royal Portrush it only heightens its importance.
Here’s a summary table of estimated approach shot distances into each green:
A player’s yardage is going to depend on how they attack the golf course, as Royal Portrush does allow multiple styles of play tee-to-green. Players who take more aggressive lines off the tee or pull driver more often out of their bag will see approach yardages on the lower end of this scale (AKA your Jon Rahm’s and Dustin Johnson’s). Shorter hitters and those who tend to be more conservative off the tee will see yardages on the higher end of the scale (AKA your Henrik Stenson’s and Matt Kuchar’s). Still, it looks as though everyone will be challenged throughout the bag, as these holes offer a great mix of approach shots requiring precise wedge play, shots that require a good strike with a mid-iron, and shots that will test long irons and fairway metals.
Lastly, with the undulations of the fairways, their sloping, and the positioning of waste areas and sand dunes off the tee, one can’t afford to be spraying the ball off the tee this week. Even drives that are “good” can hit the wrong side of a swail and careen off into a pot bunker or into some weedy fescue. Accuracy off the tee will be important, but that doesn’t mean a bomber can’t bring this golf course to its knees. The site of the Irish Open two weeks ago, Lahinch, had conditions very similar to Royal Portrush, and Jon Rahm won it going away because he had an all-world driving week. Rory McIlroy also recently won the RBC Canadian Open on a fellow Harry Colt golf course at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, which similarly demanded precision off the tee but allowed someone to take aggressive lines and run away with the title.
For off-the-tee metrics, don’t just rely on Driving Accuracy %’s. Instead, use stats like Strokes Gained – OOT and Good Drive % (a metric that captures fariways hit and fairways missed where the player hit the green in regulation anyways) to gauge how well players are driving the golf ball to handicap the event.