With golf gambling on the rise, betting on the US Open was everywhere

PINEHURST, N.C. — Bryson DeChambeau spent time during the U.S. Open smiling at his cheering fans while they shouted words of encouragement. On the No. 9 tee box on Saturday, the cheers briefly subsided when he thrust his right hip forward. Then, a spectator’s voice echoed.

“Hey, Bryson! I have a hundred dollars for you for shooting over 70.5 today!”

This time, DeChambeau’s face was stone. The hurler, a man named Lee Woody, who was holding two cans of White Claw hard seltzer, seemed delighted when DeChambeau missed the green on the par 3.

“There’s a limit, and I dip my toe in it a little bit,” Woody said of his taunt. He also bet another $100 on Hideki Matsuyama via FanDuel. under It was 71.5 that day. “He’s very calm and composed,” Woody said of Matsuyama. “He doesn’t get fazed by anybody’s chirping.”

Neither, apparently, did DeChambeau, who saved par and shot 67 for his second U.S. Open victory.

This was the first U.S. Open played in a state with legalized sports betting, allowing spectators to wager from their phones on every imaginable aspect of the tournament, and the jeers of gamblers in the gallery added another challenge to the notoriously tough Pinehurst No. 2. One fan called out to Viktor Hovland on Friday that his bet depended on Hovland making the cut. (He didn’t make it.) Another offered Phil Mickelson, a gambling addict, a bet on his performance at No. 17.

“We hear everything,” DeChambeau said earlier in the week. “It’s not like we’re unaware of it.” He joked that it’s hard to make out what the rowdies are saying at LIV golf events, where music is played during rounds, adding, “Whether betting is a good thing or not is debatable. I personally think if it promotes the sport and increases viewership, I’m all for it.”

Golf gambling and daily fantasy contests have surged in recent years. Daily fantasy operator PrizePicks said it collected more than twice as much money in entry fees for the first round of this year’s U.S. Open than it did in 2022. Betting during the round, rather than before play begins, makes up 45 percent of the money wagered on golf at DraftKings, the sportsbook said, and for some, attending golf tournaments offers a chance to capitalize on variables invisible to TV viewers, betting early before the sportsbook adjusts its odds or, in some cases, trying to get inside the minds of players.

Two-time major winner Collin Morikawa said he hears fans yelling about gambling all the time, though usually to amuse them. “In a lot of other sports you would never hear that because you’re not that close and it’s so loud,” he said. “It’s funny to think that we’ll work harder just for them.”

Last week fans could bet not only on who would win, but also on the nationality of the winner, the top 5 (and top 10 and top 20) finishers, the leader after each round, the best performance in each group (for the day and on each hole), the group’s total score on a hole, how many birdies and bogeys each player would get each day and even whether certain players would hit a particular fairway or put their approach shot within 20 feet.

Max Homa agreed that most of the taunts gamblers shout during tournaments seem well-intentioned. But he also mentioned last year’s BMW Championship in Illinois, where a gambler yelled “Pull it!” while Homa was mid-putt. He said worse than any taunts on the course are the taunts gamblers send him via social media, which “are pretty nasty.”

Bettors have also tracked his Venmo account, sending him requests for money several times each week after he loses money playing. “It’s gotten old,” he said.

Serious bettors build predictive models to estimate how each player’s tendencies – driving distance, preference for hitting draws or cuts, chipping and putting, performance in different weather – fit the course that week. However, in recent years it has become much harder to beat the bookmakers as granular golf data has become widely available. When Rufus PeabodyOne sharp bettor described as the “apex predator” of golf gamblers began betting on the sport 15 years ago, saying he could only get an edge by recognising that players who drive long have an edge on long courses.

Though Peabody’s approach is largely data-driven, golf allows for some subjective analysis, he said. At this year’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Peabody predicted heavy rain would be particularly bad news for Scheffler, who unconventionally slides his back foot on drives.

Gamblers want non-public information, and golf has more of it than probably any other sport. Before this year’s Masters, Golf Digest gambling analysts Andy Lack “Going to golf tournaments over the years, you see who’s comfortable and who’s really working hard,” Lack said. (Hovland missed the cut.)

One more time at the Masters, Alex Blickle, an analyst FTNfantasynoticed that Paul Casey was struggling to loosen his back during the practice rounds. He withdrew just hours before the first round. Kenny Kim, host of the show Fantasy Golf Degenerates The podcast placed a winning bet on traditionally erratic putter Sergio Garcia to win the 2017 Masters after watching him make consistent putts on the practice green.

Last week, a sharp bettor, who requested anonymity because sportsbooks are known to limit how much customers can wager after showing a winning trend, checked out Pinehurst No. 2 during all three practice rounds, hoping to see if it was as tough as advertised. Players didn’t seem to lose when drives hit the wiregrass — promoting long drivers like DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy, who might not be as accurate — and No. 16 didn’t look as birdie-proof as suspected. SuperBook Sports set the line at 5 under par for the winning score, and this bettor was confident it would be lower. (DeChambeau finished at 6 under.)

Players, caddies, credentialed press and volunteers are prohibited from betting on tournaments or giving nonpublic information to gamblers. But golf tournaments appear to be a prime venue for “courtsiding,” in which in-person bettors wager on results that have already happened before they reach bookmakers. That was a problem about a decade ago, when sportsbooks relied on TV broadcasts that could be delayed by a minute or more, said Matthew Tranhel, a longtime British bookmaker. “If you were really lucky, you could get the feeds that literally came out of the broadcast truck if they had been leaked or hacked.”

Betting groups also send “runners” onto golf courses to make sure a competitor has run into a hazard or told a foul lie. But if bettors are able to outsmart bookmakers, it doesn’t take long for it to become apparent. “Bookmakers are very vindictive,” Trenhel said, and bettors suspected of courtsiding often can’t bet more than a few dollars.

Nowadays, sportsbooks can use geolocation to tell whether a mobile app user is on the course or not. “People who really industrialize this process end up opening up with over 50 accounts,” Trenhel said, “and by the end of the tournament all those accounts are burned.”

Even though spectators see bad lies before anyone else, most fans cannot predict how the odds will change. On Pinehurst’s No. 7, a par 4, a group of enthusiastic bettors sitting among the pine trees watched American Charlie Reiter’s tee shot hit a tree. They chanted, “This is unplayable!” Reiter hit his next shot into the middle of the green and made par.

Sam Cooney, a top golf oddsmaker at Circa Sports, said that in addition to limiting “anybody” who can bet live on golf, many operators create a 10 percent or more house edge in odds “on something that should have a 4 or 5 percent edge” — a change he said most recreational customers don’t even notice.

Fans streaming NBC’s coverage of the US Open likely saw a 30- to 50-second delay, according to analysis by technology company Fenix, but that still didn’t stop viewers at the event from taking advantage. For one thing, most sportsbooks use the data feed provided by IMG Arena, which is delivered a second or two after the ball stops.

Friends Miles Wilkins and Christophe Caban found seats behind a hole and hoped to bet live on each group Thursday afternoon, but they learned that FanDuel wouldn’t allow them to bet on anyone actually playing the hole. “Live betting is something you do on impulse, like buying Snickers at the checkout counter,” Wilkins said, when he and Caban left to do something else. “You’re not going to go back down the aisle to get it.”

Gambling from the gallery

Some recent high school graduates from the Charlotte area were having a lot of fun Friday, sitting behind the 15th green, a par 3, and placing bets on each passing group. One of them, Hunter Justice, 19, also came Thursday but didn’t gamble. “I was here with my mom,” he said.

Sports bettors in North Carolina must be 21 or older. A friend of Justice’s said he places bets before rounds on his brother-in-law’s FanDuel account, but other than that he uses PrizePicks, which is for people 19 and older.

From their seats, the friends looked at FanDuel and figured out the odds on each group playing 15, then placed $5 bets among themselves. Justice challenged his friend to believe Garcia would score par or better. The Spaniard’s tee shot found the front of the green but, like so many shots that day, rolled away.

Nevertheless, Garcia made the putt to 4 feet and made par. Justice said, “Bang!” As Garcia stepped off the green, he yelled, “I love you and your stupid pants.”

It was easy to hear fans at Pinehurst bragging and fretting about their bets. Tyler Cade followed Tiger Woods during practice rounds and noticed on the bus to the course Thursday morning that the pin on Woods’ first hole was in the middle and bet he would make birdie, which he did at odds of +220, meaning a $22 profit on a $10 bet. Another fan, Eric Allen, bet on Woods and several other players to win the tournament. “If anybody is going to bet, I’ll bet on raindrops,” he said. “I don’t care.”

Since states began legalizing sports betting, there have been very few cases of what happened to Homa: a gambler trying to influence the outcome of a shot. Still, “the potential for fan interference concerns me,” said Matt Kuchar, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour. “You hope it doesn’t get to the point where you need to do something that diminishes fans’ enjoyment of the game.”

Asked if he was concerned that widespread gambling was spoiling the spectator experience, USGA Chief Commercial Officer John Podany said, “We haven’t experienced that.”

It became a topic of debate Thursday whether betting diminished Alex Gaspard’s experience at Pinehurst after the golfer he had placed a $25 bet on to win, Justin Thomas, bogeyed the first nine holes in his first round.

Gaspard, who came from Texas to watch the US Open, seemed upset that his bet was wasted so quickly. He then said, “I already spent $25 on hot dogs.”

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