Golf Betting Part 1: Evaluating Course Fit
By: Tony Johnson
Greetings fellow bettors. Hopefully this last weekend was fruitful for you with action all over the sports landscape. As our resident obscure sports degenerate, I was focused on the playoff at the CareerBuilder Challenge while Philly was relentlessly obliterating the Vikings on the screen next to me. At one point I looked around the sports book and I was the only person out of about 200 focused on something other than football or horses. It’s good to be me… I think.
Last week I talked about using four different factors to evaluate matchup and future bets. Those four factors are course fit, course history, current form, and miscellaneous. While these four factors are interrelated to some degree I’d like to tackle each one individually. Course fit is essentially evaluating the specific course (or courses) being played each week and how it will affect each player. The PGA tour plays on a variety of courses each season that can vary greatly from week to week. Some of the variables associated with each course include overall length, width of fairways, rough length, bunkering, doglegs, varying approach areas, green size, and many more. There are two steps in evaluating course fit. The first is evaluating the course in question and the second is to look at historical data from past seasons (if any) of play.
Evaluating the course is usually one of the easier things we get to do each week. This is mostly because this information is readily available on a host of websites like pgatour.com, rotoworld, golfweek, and very possibly the website of the actual golf course. Let’s start with the length of the course. This is obviously easy to find and can tell you a lot about what to expect. This week, the Tour is on two courses but the main course, Torrey Pines South, tips out at around 7700 yards. For comparison, the PGA will play at Colonial Country Club later in the year with a length only 7200 yards. Usually, a shorter course “defends” itself by having fairways that are narrow, thicker rough, or bunkers that are penal if found off the tee. Sometimes because of these factors, a shorter course may actually be a more difficult test compared to a course that is much longer.
As we move from the tee shot to the fairway, we find other features like elevation change, approach areas, green size, and water hazards. Elevation change will affect how far the ball carries and what type of shot may be needed. A good example of this is the Tournament of Champions played at Kapalua in early January. This course is very long like Torrey Pines but doesn’t “play to it’s length” due to the elevation changes on the course. Torrey Pines is at sea level and often plays longer than what’s listed on the scorecard. Green size is another detail that can’t be overlooked. Some courses provide large greens which are easier to hit while others are more like a “postage stamp” and landing the ball on the green from a distance is an accomplishment in itself. Some courses have flatter greens with less break which may allow for more putts to go in while others have tremendous undulation making it much harder to make putts of even a short length.
After evaluating the course, we need to find historical data that shows how the course actually affects play. Some courses have been on tour for 50+ years while others may be making their first appearance as a host this year. Sometimes a course has been redesigned or altered significantly from last year to the point that previous data may no longer have any value in evaluating the present tournament. If that’s the case, the first part of evaluating the course carries much greater meaning with no stats to fall back on.
I’m only going to spend a short moment here talking about statistics and how they relate to course fit since we will be getting in more depth with that later on. This week we already know that Torrey Pines is incredibly long but it also possesses many narrow fairways. Looking at the past three seasons, I found that the players that finished in the top 10 each year weren’t very accurate off the tee. This means that they didn’t hit the fairway for a high percentage. In fact, the last three winners (in about a total field of 80 players after the cut) finished in 19th, 57th, and 49th respectively in driving accuracy. Two of the last three winners were well below average but still won the tournament! On the flip side, I noticed that the three previous winners finished 14th, 5th, and 8th in scrambling. Scrambling is the percentage that a player gets the ball up and down after a green is missed in regulation. This tells us that it was important to be able to get the ball up and down if a green was missed. Our evaluation of the length of course combined with possessing narrow fairways means that hitting the fairway off the tee is difficult and not as important as getting the ball up and in from around the green.
Next week I’ll discuss player fit and how each player’s specific strengths and weaknesses determine how well they fit the course. I’m confident it will be more fun. As always, I’ll leave a few picks for this week at the bottom. Good luck to us!
PGA Farmers Insurance Open
L Glover over P Uihlein -105 (William Hill)
European Tour Omega Dubai Desert Classic
R McIlroy over S Garcia -165 (William Hill)
2018 Record: 1-1
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