The unique nature of The Open Championship and links golf means that it’s the ultimate test of character and skill and presents a number of betting opportunities. This Open Championship golf trading strategy delves into the data, the course and trends to give you vital information to aid your decision making.
Trading golf is a useful tool to counteract the unpredictability of the sport and take advantage of the substantial odds on offer - learn how to trade golf to lock in a profit or reduce your risk.
Royal Birkdale course details
The Open tests all aspects of a player's game and Royal Birkdale is often regarded as the truest test of links golf.
The Par 70 course is 7,156 yards long and, despite appearing relatively straightforward, is notoriously tough off the tee with narrow fairways and deep, strategically-placed bunkers which are in-play on every hole.
The course is designed to punish errant shots, and for those players who miss the fairway, attacking the pins can be very difficult. A premium is therefore put on accuracy, rather than long-hitting.
In addition, the course has a natural defence; the coastal wind. If the gusts are strong, consecutive holes can often be played into opposing wind directions and the consequences on scoring can be substantial - last time out in 2008 Padraig Harrington won with a three-over-par score.
The weather - discover which other external factors can influence the outcome of a golf tournament - can have such an impact, and with its unpredictable nature at Royal Birkdale, could turn the leaderboard upside down. Nine years ago, more than half of the top-10 finishers were outside the top-50 after the first day, and remarkably four were below 90th.
Holes to be aware of for in-play trading
Scoring is considered easier towards the end of the round than at the beginning and this is something in-play bettors must consider when trading live during this year’s tournament.
Holes 1 and 6
The tough start to Royal Birkdale is backed up by the data from 2008. Navigating the opening six holes bogey-free and level par will be seen as a triumph.
A tough opening hole, often rated as one of the most difficult holes on the course, played to its reputation in 2008 as the joint-hardest hole. An accurate tee shot is vital if you are to have a chance of attacking the pin. Miss the fairway here and players could be playing catch-up.
Hole 6 was the other hardest hole in 2008. The dogleg-right par four demands accuracy off the tee to avoid bunkers located on each side of the fairway. From here a long second shot to an elevated green, again protected by a number of sand traps and dunes, means many will leave with a bogey or worse.
Once a player has navigated the opening six, as a bettor, you should be aware of the four hole stretch from 10-13. This stretch boasts four of the hardest eight holes, so don’t expect many birdies.
Holes 15 and 17
If the name of the game for the first 14 holes is to survive and be in with a chance, 15 and 17 present great opportunities for players to make birdie or eagle in two reachable par-fives - the only par-fives on the course.
In 2008 they produced a combined 294 birdies or better which was 35.2% of the overall number and eventual winner Harrington famously secured victory by making three at the 17th.
Given that these holes are scorable, clubhouse leaders may see their lead disappear, and a swing of three or more shots over the final four holes is a realistic prospect and something every in-play trader should consider.
What does it take to perform well at The Open?
We have previously outlined how to identify players to trade in golf. Given trading golf markets are all about finding players who are undervalued in the market and suited to the specific conditions of the tournament, The Open and links golf presents an opportunity for a trader.
We have already showed how we think the course will play and what its characteristics are. To analyse further we should look at other factors such as:
- Current form
- Player stats vs the course
- Historical performance
- Weather and draw
Considering a player's form is vital when looking for players to exceed their chances of winning compared to the odds on offer at The Open. Eight of last 10 Open winners had a top 20 in one of their previous three starts.
In addition, nine of the last 10 winners have either won at least one PGA or European Tour event or finished in the top 10 of either The Masters or US Open prior to arriving at The Open.
With links golf so different to most other courses on tour, the chance for players to acclimatise to conditions ahead of The Open has been beneficial. Six of the last seven winners have played in the warm-up Scottish Open event. In fact, the first four last year all played in this tournament a week before golf’s oldest Major.
Player stats vs the course
For further value, you should study a player's statistics both recently and throughout the season. This will allow you to identify the players that excel in the most relevant course stats - analysing player strengths and weaknesses and match them up with the course characteristics.
Firstly, because the course should play similarly to 2008, we can look at the data for specific skills to give us an insight into the requirements to be successful at Royal Birkdale:
- Driving Distance: 32.7
- Driving Accuracy: 31.3
- Greens In Regulation: 26.0
- Scrambling: 13.3
- Putting Average: 30.8
There isn't much of a pattern statistically but this is often the case at Open Championships. However, due to the harsh weather, numerous greens and fairways were missed, meaning a top-class scrambling game was essential to success in 2008 - in anything but calm conditions, having a solid scrambling game is essential.
Essentially, to perform well at The Open players need a good all-round game; accuracy, scrambling, and a hot putter - Ernie Els, in 2012, is the only Open champion in the last decade not to rank in the top 11 for putting average.
Players who have experienced a good finish in The Open previously tend to know what it takes to win. This is backed up by the fact that nine and six of last 10 Open winners registered a top-six or top-three respectively in the event previously. Recognising which players have performed well in the event and at the course in the past is a good indicator, especially if their stats favour the course characteristics and they enter the event in good form.
Weather and draw
As mentioned earlier, the course’s greatest defence is the wind, which can be brutal coming off the Irish Sea. Indications suggest we’re going to get a windy week with some rain, so consider players who have experience in links conditions.
The weather can be so impactful that the last three champions at Royal Birkdale were between five and seven shots adrift of the leader after the opening round.
Looking at the draw is key when weather is expected to play a major part. For example, if the weather is forecast to be worse later in the day, players out early should get the best of the conditions.
The list of previous Birkdale winners suggests that the best players usually prevail, with the eight victors sharing 19 total Open titles between them. The eight winners were also in the top 25 of the world golf rankings at the time of their victories.
Last time at Royal Birkdale 53-year-old two-time Open Champion, Greg Norman, led the field by two strokes after three tough, wind-battered days, becoming the oldest player to ever lead The Open through 54 holes. Twelve months later 59-year-old Tom Watson took a one-stroke lead into the final day at Turnberry.
Neither men won, but the fact that eight of the last 10 Open winners have been 35 or older suggests age isn't a barrier at The Open; it’s a plus, especially if the weather produces strong winds and rain.
Best golf odds
Once you have conducted your research and selected your players, you should maximise your Open Championship profit by betting with the best odds.
The graph below highlights your return with Smarkets compared to an exchange who charge 5% commission and bookmakers from a winning £10 bet on 35 PGA and European Tour events in 2016.
Betting with Smarkets would have returned 3.16% more compared to an exchange charging 5% and 35.44% more than bookmakers.
This shows the importance of trading golf with the best odds - and that’s what you get with Smarkets’s industry-low 2% flat commission.
Apply this to betting
The Open Championship is a different challenge when compared to golf’s other Majors, largely due to the nature of links golf. Their defined characteristics create opportunities for bettors seeking value, which have been identified in this Open Championship trading strategy.