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Stop me if you've heard this before: In golf, you simply place your bets on the elite ball-striking "bombers" of the world. Placing shots closer to the pin gives you the best chance to register birdies, eagles and make tough pars, sure, but how do we target the right guys week to week on the PGA Tour and be able to predict up and down days for certain golfers? If you've bet on golf over the years, or at the very least over these last three to six months, you've probably also heard that putting is the most random and "non-sticky" statistic day to day. While there are in fact elite putters in the game, the truly elite overall golfers, the ones at the top of the world rankings, tend to smash off the tee and rank as the best iron players as well.
So how can we use this general knowledge to our advantage, pick our spots and beat the books? The answer lies in the strokes gained ratings numbers for each round. While betting outright winners and long shots for Top 5's and Top 10's is fun to do, we are looking to gain an edge after Round 1 is played. We're talking about Rounds 2, 3 and 4, where we can get a true glimpse of how a golfer is performing (or not performing) on a given round/day. Below, we will dive into what numbers to look for and how to add these numbers up so that we can determine which golfers pass our "buy" threshold and our "fade" threshold.
Using strokes gained statistics from round to round, we will be able to target highly advantageous matchups based off our strong buys and our strong fades. Now let's break this down a bit further:
According to the Action Network's GolfBet page, "there’s a big difference between sticking approach shots within five feet vs. hitting the green but having a 60-foot putt every time. That’s where Strokes Gained comes in." This page also features easy-to-read charts on strokes gained stats within each round at a given tournament, and with these numbers we are able to sort through every relevant data point to gauge which golfers had a little bit of luck (hot putting) vs. which golfers had no luck at all yet remained competitive (strong approach/irons/ball-striking) and might be "due." While putting numbers usually regress to the mean, strokes gained metrics for tee-to-green, approach and ball-striking, for example, tend to stick. This is where we will bread our butter folks, and where we will make our strongest bets.
Case in point: Golfer A shoots a 5-under 66 on Friday for Round 2, but in doing so he actually lost two strokes on approach and gained seven strokes putting. This typically means Golfer A is due for some serious putting regression the following day. This would be an example of a golfer to fade in a head-to-head matchup for the following round/Round 3 in this case. Conversely, if Golfer B shoots a two-under 69 while gaining five strokes tee to green but losing three strokes with his putter, you probably want to buy this golfer in Round 3 with the expectation that his putting at least goes positively back toward the mean/average putting numbers compared to the field. To help you break this down simply, we are going to list the key "strokes gained" metrics to focus on each weekend, and how you can easily break down these numbers to make a profit for any given PGA tournament without worrying about nailing your outright and futures bets.
Strokes Gained is broken down into four categories, and depending on a certain course/tournament, we will look to target either one, two or three of these specific categories to determine our Post-Round 1/round to round matchup bets. But before we explain how to break these numbers down, let's look at a brief bullet point list of all the numbers we have available to analyze and sift through each week:
- Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
- Strokes Gained: Approach
- Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green
- Strokes Gained: Putting
- Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking (which is Off-the-Tee + Approach)
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (which is Ball-Striking + Around-the-Green)
Next, I will explain how to use these numbers to choose our buys and our fades for each round, and at the bottom of this article I will include a list to all of the matchups bets I've made over the course of the last four tournaments, which now includes the TOUR Championship, BMW Championship, Northern Trust Open and Wyndham Championship. While this isn't biggest sample size in the world, it is in fact a sample of more than 100 bets that has gone 80-34-12.5 for a ridiculous +46.5 units (!). All it takes it some simple math here. We will consult two sites for the data, and we will set "threshold numbers" for each bet.
First, here's the main chart below which we will use to find our strongest edges. Kudos again to the Action Network for compiling this data in an easy-to-read and super user-friendly format (using the Infogram platform). I also highly recommend using DataGolf's.com "Live Strokes Gained" page as a second data point to look at a full breakdown of all strokes gained statistics in a top to bottom, sortable list. With the chart below, you can click the dots/circles at the top to look at specific groups of stats. For example, at the BMW Championship, where strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained approach were the two key "sticky statistics," you can strictly look at "OTT" and "APP" for all golfers and compare that to their strokes gained putting. This is how we're going to do our math. We will look at OTT vs. PUTT first, then APP vs. PUTT second. This will give us two groups of buys and two groups of fades, and give us a lot of options to bet:
OFF THE TEE / APPROACH BUYS:
- Strokes gained off the tee buys: If a golfer has a positive OTT number and a negative PUTT number, then subtract the two numbers together (example: OTT = 1.75 and PUTT = -1.25, this would be a "+3" and a buy). If this number exceeds "+3", this golfer is most likely a buy for the following round in a head-to-head matchup. The reason I say "most likely" is because we don't want to bet two "buy" golfers facing off against one other. On the flip side, if one of our "buy" golfers is facing one of our "fade" golfers directly, this automatically becomes a best bet. The math is simple here to add up.
- Strokes gained approach buys: Same method here. Look at golfers who have a positive APP number and negative PUTT number (example: APP = 2 and PUTT = -1). This would be a "+3" and a guy to buy.
- Strokes gained off the tee fades: If a golfer has a negative OTT and positive PUTT, we will subtract the numbers and look for any golfers to fade below the "-3" threshold. For example: OTT = -2 and PUTT = 2. This would be a "-4" and a golfer to fade in a head-to-head matchup the following round. This assumes our fade golfer isn't in a head-to-head with another fade. In that case, we will pass.
- Strokes gained approach fades: Same method here. For example, look for negative APP and positive PUTT. Subtract the numbers. If a golfer has an APP of -4 and a PUTT of 2, that means he is a "-6" and easily meets our threshold to make him a fade for head-to-head matchups in the upcoming round.
Make your hit list of buys and fades after each round with this data. More often than not, you will be looking to target anywhere from one to three of the strokes gained metrics, depending on the course. In some cases, your buys and fades might be limited in a given round because not too many pass our "+3" buy threshold and our "-3" fade threshold. That's ok. Some rounds you will find tons of these guys to either back or bet against. Take it round to round and remain patient. Finally, the last factor that helps me add a few other matchup bets based off strokes gained statistics is looking at the fully sortable table of numbers from DataGolf.com's Live Strokes Gained page. Here's a screenshot example below. If you click on the image it will take you to their website and you can see recent results from the BMW Championship.
Again, what I'm going to do in this situation is look at the stokes gained categories that apply to the course/tournament. For the BMW Championship, we were able to focus on three strokes gained relevant areas: "Strokes Gained Off The Tee", "Strokes Gained Approach" and "Strokes Gained Tee To Green."
As we continue to improve and refine the process for our strokes gained ratings/research, I have developed a "strokes gained net ratings" formula that adds the up the scores for each golfer from whichever strokes gained categories we are looking at for a given tournament. Example: Golfer A scores a "+3" net rating for approach, a "+1.5" on off the tee and a "+4" on tee to green. If these are the three statistical categories we are looking at, then this golfer will score a true net rating of "+8.5." Remember, determining our overall/true strokes gained net ratings will help us not just target our buys and fades, but also assist us in ranking and prioritizing our list of bets to make. This helps us paint a better overall wagering picture in general, taking into account all relevant statistics and all relevant regression metrics.
Chris Dell is a lifelong sports journalist and news editor who been published in The New York Times, New York Daily News, ESPN, and Yahoo, among other publications. He’s also the co-founder and director of fantasy football/player props content for The Betting Predators. For more of Chris’ sports content, which includes NFL fantasy rankings, player prop analysis, golf betting, DFS strategy and more, visit www.bettingpredators.com