Monday, March 4, 2024

Flag Hunting: PGA Betting Picks – An Introduction To Golf Live Betting

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My name is Ian McNeill, better known as one-half of the Flag Hunting duo that covers PGA and NASCAR betting on our podcast of the same name (@flag_hunting on Twitter). I’ve been a golf fan all my life and started to get into the gambling/DFS space in late 2017. I can’t tell you how excited I am to join the RotoBaller PGA squad and begin this golf betting journey with you guys for the 2023 PGA Tour season!

Since Flag Hunting formed at the start of the 2021-22 season, I’ve cashed a total of 14 outright tickets in 58 events (a nearly 25% hit rate) and profited nearly $12,000 from betting just $350 per week on average. I’ve been gambling most of my life (mostly on cards and mahjong tiles within my Filipino household), but golf betting is an ever-evolving, complex problem that has captured my imagination like no other. I’ve made every mistake I’m about to lay out in these next few thousand words, and I commit an ungodly number of hours every week trying to refine my process and continue to turn our followers a profit in the sport I love so deeply.

Live betting has been a tool I’ve always felt was under-utilized in the golf betting world, and I’ve used the methods I’m about to explain to cash five of Flag Hunting’s fourteen outrights. Most notably a 175-1 on both Lucas Herbert at the 2021 Bermuda Championship and Adam Svensson at the 2022 RSM Classic. When done correctly, it can be a consistent tool to acquire value in the ever-changing landscape of a PGA Tour tournament and is by far the best method I’ve found for those looking to chase big ticket cashes from 100-1 and beyond. This article serves as my introduction to future content that you can find every week here at RotoBaller. With that being said, here are my Commandments for live betting the PGA Tour.

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Set A Weekly Budget

Anyone that has bet golf outrights for any amount of time will tell you: it’s a fickle game. Out of the 150+ players teeing it up at a PGA Tour event every week, outright bettors are trying to solve a one-outcome equation: the winner.

It’s a game where second pays as much as last (zilch), and the emotional ups and downs of sweating a potential 50, 100, or even 200-1 payout is something rarely found in sports betting. However, in the midst of all of these juicy plus-money propositions, bettors must keep in mind that there can only be one victor. And more often than not, the guy lifting the trophy Sunday afternoon isn’t one of the names pending in your account.

That’s why it’s imperative to anyone looking to adopt this strategy (or dive into the golf outright game in general), to set boundaries regarding your weekly exposure. In other words, how many weeks can you go without a winner before the well begins to run dry? Everybody you talk to in this space will have their own unique takes on this equation. Some prefer to play it safe with exposures in the 10-12x range – meaning you have less breathing room on each individual card, but more time to make back your losses before you’re buried in the debts of weeks past.

I’ve also seen a more liberal approach, where bettors treat each individual tournament like a football game: loading up on a majority of the prohibitive favorites and trusting themselves to deliver winners at a high enough rate to cover the massive liability of betting 5 names underneath 20-1.

Of the two schools of thought, I’m much more aligned with the former, more conservative route – especially for those of y’all that are newer to golf betting. This is an imperfect, variance-ridden game played by imperfect (albeit incredibly skilled) contestants. The last thing I want anyone to do is hammer away at golf outrights and blow their bankroll in a couple of weeks on a bad spell of putt luck.

In my personal process, I allocate around $350 per week for a potential payout of $2250. A random assortment of numbers I know, but this 6.5x ratio has proven to be my Goldilocks Zone of outright golf betting: not too constrictive to where I can’t bet a strong lean at the top of the odds board, but also not too reckless as to leave myself scrambling after a month or two of bad beats.

You can use my method, or you can experiment with your own system. The only advice I would give is to remain consistent in spite of past results. Don’t let the gaudy payouts on the outright board fool you: Betting golf winners is not a one-way ticket to the penthouse, it’s the same discipline-intensive grind you’ll find in practically every other gambling endeavor. The only difference is: when you show your friends that winning 50-1 ticket on Monday morning, they’ll be begging for your insights on the upcoming tournament.


Stick To Your Priors

Whether it’s listening to podcasts, reading articles, or running your own analysis with the multitude of tools available here at RotoBaller, we all have our favored avenues of selecting our player pools that week. However, when balls are in the air, and putts begin to fall, it’s quite easy to take a quick look at the Thursday morning leaderboard and fire away on the 100-1 longshot that finds himself 2 shots clear with 66 holes to play. This is among the most critical of all mistakes you can make as a golf betting newbie (and definitely the quickest way to become subject to ridicule on the lawless forum of Golf Betting Twitter).

Championship golf tournaments are 4-day, 72-hole marathons. Would you bet the 42-win 8-seed to win their first-round series over the 2017 Warriors just because they took a 29-23 lead in the first quarter of Game 1? Of course not. Because even though percentages would indicate that their chances to advance have theoretically increased from the start of play, your prior knowledge of the series matchup would tell you that Golden State has plenty of time to press their ardent advantage as the series progresses. It’s the same in a golf tournament.

There’s a reason the biggest prizes contested at the highest levels of professional golf have been played as 72-hole events for over a hundred years: a four-day stroke-play format does a pretty good job at flushing out the best players in the field that week. Leaderboards on Thursday are very rarely a reliable indicator of who will be last out on the course Sunday afternoon, so use that to your advantage. Instead of chasing the hot starters, lay back in the weeds and scope out some of the names that you might have been priced out on early in the week. I guarantee there will be numbers that emerge that you could have scarcely imagined when the odds opened on Monday morning.

My personal process begins Friday afternoon (specifically around 5 pm EST) when the initial field list gets released for next week’s tournament. I first form a shortlist of every player I believe has even a minute chance of winning that week’s event. The number of names I write down varies by tournament, but it’s quite easy to eliminate 60-70% of the field before the cut is even official from the week before.

These Friday cross-offs are names I’m perfectly comfortable allowing to beat me – independent of the price they’re posted at when odds drop on Monday, and at this point, my shortlist still includes almost every headline name I expect to be designated as the favorites in the outright market. When we do get odds on Monday morning, the fun really begins. Because I’ve already eliminated half of the field, my eyes can go straight to the names I’ve identified as core plays for me that week. If I like the number beside their name, there’s no reason to hesitate (particularly if you get the sense that they are well-liked by other established names in the industry).

Most weeks at open, there are a couple of values on my shortlist that really stick out as immediate buys, a few names I like in a vacuum but would never pay the price tag for, and a slew of players I see potential in, but I’m comfortable holding out for a better number. This final selection of players can change as the week goes along, but more often than not, that third tier is the list I take into battle on Thursday morning.


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Do Your Scouting

Now that we’ve got our shortlist of players locked in, it’s time to talk through some of the minutiae of live betting so we can better understand when to react to price adjustments, and when to ignore them. A lot of this work can be done beforehand by understanding the routing these players will be taking on the golf course, determining which holes project to be birdie opportunities, and which holes are ones you’re happy to take par.

After all, although all birdies count the same on the leaderboard, in the actual landscape of a golf tournament, a birdie on a 490-yard Par 4 is a lot different than a birdie on a 515-yard Par 5. This is because the difference between a 3 on a difficult Par 4 (with a stroke average of 4.25 for example), is a lot greater than a birdie on a Par 5 where 35-40% of the field will be making the same score (or better). Having an intimate understanding of the golf course is an invaluable tool in the live market because oftentimes you can pretty accurately predict what score a golfer ends up at by the end of his round based on years of stroke averages logged on his remaining holes.

I’m much more likely to make a move on a guy that has made an unexpectedly good score on a difficult hole than I am on a guy who two-putted for birdie on a reachable Par 5. My favored resource when it comes to course scouting is Josh Bennett’s “Hole-By-Hole Course Breakdown”, which is available free here at RotoBaller, but whatever method you choose, try and map out a player’s round the night before the tournament: Which holes do they need to take advantage of? Which holes are you comfortable with Par? Is there a particular stretch of holes that you’d like a player to get through unscathed before you invest (The Bear Trap at PGA National, or the Green Mile at Quail Hollow for example)? The more you know about the course, the better prepared you can be for when decisions need to be made in an instant.


Ready, Aim, Fire!

Here we are: gameday. We’ve done all of our initial research, we’ve got a list of guys we have some level of interest in, and hopefully, enough room in our weekly budget to fire away in the live market. What’s the next step?

Step one is finding the quickest, most reliable method of tracking the players on your shortlist. The PGA Tour App has recently released a new update that is supposed to hasten the process between the shot being hit in real-time and the updates sent to your mobile device. Time will tell if it’s actually an improvement on the old app – my initial experiences have led me to believe that nothing has really changed, so you might want to use another tool of your preference to get the latest updates on how golfers are performing in real-time.

With this little cheat code in one tab and my collection of other sportsbooks in another, I can be so much quicker on the draw when it comes to catching values in-tournament. And speed is truly everything when it comes to catching stale numbers on live odds boards. Thanks to this modern information age, bettors have never had so many tools at their disposal to aid in their decision-making. Taking advantage of the resources available to you is imperative to anyone that wants to consistently be on the smart side of every bet they make, and ultimately win more money in the process.


Summary (For My TL;DR People)

  • Set and stick to a weekly outright budget
  • Be stubborn with your prior leans and learn to be comfortable with a player beating you that you had no interest in early in the week. More often than not, water will find its level over the course of 72 holes.
  • Map out and identify birdie opportunities/bogey risks on a particular course and adjust expectations accordingly. Make a golfer prove he’s worthy of a spot on your card by exceeding your expectations over the course of a round
  • Use the multitude of tools accessible to us when tracking a golfer/tournament.
  • Stay prepared to make a bet if need be. That includes making sure you are logged into all of your books that offer in-play betting and making sure you’ve got enough funds in your account to place the bet you need. Numbers move fast, and you don’t want to be left holding the bag because you were unprepared to move on a number you liked.
  • Above all else, enjoy the sweat, and embrace the process! Even the best outright bettors I know are holding nothing but losing tickets at the end of most tournaments. This is where discipline and self-reflection become so important in this game. Try to come out of every week with something you learned for future events: whether it’s about the course setup, a change of opinion you’ve had on an individual player or something you feel you can improve in your own process. The best gamblers I know are also the most introspective. Be honest with yourself about your methods and I promise the results will follow!
  • Follow my weekly pre-tournament Flag Hunting picks here at RotoBaller and keep an eye out for my in-tournament updated selections throughout the week.


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