Duality of golf betting: distinguished on surface, wild and risk-filled with first swing

Lance Pugmire
USA TODAY Sports+

As the PGA Tour’s Florida leg opens Thursday with the Honda Classic, prognosticators point to Floridians Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger as favorites due to their proximity to the event. 

Joaquin Niemann, who won last week in Los Angeles, and hot-starting Sungjae Im are also drawing experts’ attention. 

But professional sports bettor Rufus Peabody analyzed his simulated data and stayed quiet. 

“I keep my head down,” Peabody told USA Today Sports+ this week. “The people who talk publicly, selling their picks, I don’t pay any attention to that. Think about it. Why would you sell your picks?” 

Peabody, a professional gambler since 2009, devised a quantitative model that runs 250,000 simulations on the Honda Classic, factoring in a multitude of conditions like weather and player skill, along with hole and course difficulty. 

With those outcomes, he set out to wager as robustly as possible at domestic and foreign sportsbooks. When Peabody takes action, it often results in significant adjusting of worldwide odds. 

In addition to betting on international golf events, he targets around 12 players in U.S. tournaments, focusing on the golfers he favors in head-to-head matchups, which most online shops offer. 

To help cover the risk on some longshot players, Peabody bets on them as an “each-way” proposition that allows up to 1/4 returns for those who post a top-five finish. 

“If I have an edge, I’m looking to get down as much as I can,” Peabody said. 

That is the beautiful duality of golf. 

Gentlemanly and distinguished on the surface, wild and risk-filled once the shots start flying. 

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Brooks Koepka during the Honda Classic Pro-Am in Palm Beach Gardens, Feb. 26, 2020. [ALLEN EYESTONE/The Palm Beach Post]

The four major sports draw far more betting traffic at online sportsbooks. But the smaller, yet rising, crowd of astute and deep-pocketed sports gamblers are embracing golf as their betting sport of choice. 

“I used to bet baseball and football, but as the markets became more efficient it became clear I needed to specialize more,” Peabody said. “I could still turn a small profit with baseball but given all that I put into (the research), it’s almost not worth the time.” 

Golf has provided him far richer returns. 

“Last year, I was down after the first three months and ended up having the best year I’ve ever had,” he said. “You’re working on small margins with longshot payoffs. I'm talking 50/1 and 100/1. So while most weeks you might lose, when you hit, it more than makes up for it. 

“But it’s a grind.” 

Peabody’s expertise has made him the most influential individual in the world of golf betting. His sophisticated process of transforming simulations into projections inspires others to follow suit with their own systems. 

In addition to owning sports analytics site Unabated, Peabody co-hosts a sports gambling and analytics podcast, “Bet the Process.” 

The ability to cash in richly in golf is among his favorite talking points. 

At the Honda Classic, there are no top-12 golfers in the field. Koepka is a 16/1 offering to win — providing a richer payout than a bettor would get by wagering on the San Francisco 49ers to win the Super Bowl. 

Golfing breeds players to wager fervently on the sport. 

“A lot of golf fans and golfers have disposable income, and so many who golf like to bet,” Peabody said.   

Those bettors include a the most notable names in sports. 

The betting tales of six-time majors champion Phil Mickelson have taken on a life of their own. Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan was an avid bettor when he golfed. 

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And six-division boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya recalls being barraged by requests to bet while trying to get through the rounds that made him a scratch golfer. 

“Many years ago, I had a guy who kept bugging me, and he just wouldn’t stop with this big, yapping mouth, ‘Let’s play for money. Come on, are you afraid? I’m worth so much,’” De La Hoya recalls. “I never asked how much he wanted to play for, but I finally just told him, ‘Tell me how much you’re worth, and we’ll play for that.’ He backed off and I never saw him again. 

“I would rather not bet when I play. It’s a serious, challenging pastime that gets my juices flowing and provides an adrenaline rush, and when you’re putting that type of money on the line, it alters you’re thinking on how you’re going to hit the shot. I would rather not gamble, just play among friends and have a good old time.”   

But like other Californians in a holding pattern before it joins the 30 states who’ve legalized online betting, De La Hoya said he anticipates a day when he can lean on his golf knowledge to wager on the sport, especially on majors like April’s Masters. 

Golf bettors predict the PGA would boost its ratings by further embracing betting interest and encouraging broadcast partners to offer more full-round coverage of specific playing groups on alternate feeds.  

That familiarity with steadily playing the game has led many to become betting loyalists, and Peabody advises all to shop around for the best returns on their wagers. 

Beyond that, he keeps his information to himself. 

“I wouldn’t know how to do this without running some Monte Carlo simulations, and I write my own programs that go beyond if a guy has changed his coach or has a new putter or if he looked good on the range today,” Peabody said. “It’s always a thrill to test your theories and knowledge. Is my insight better? Testing my opinions, that’s the fun of it.” 

Some betting shops offer limits as high as $20,000 on players and Peabody has been there to place those bets. 

He’s a 7.5-handicap golfer, continually striving — as he does with his betting system — to achieve a more perfect approach. 

“I just love it because you’re playing against no one but yourself,” he said.