Should gambling on professional golf be legalized?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Brooke Henderson captured the Lotte Championship in Hawaii on Saturday for her sixth LPGA Tour victory. What do you like about Brooke’s game and do you see any weaknesses?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I like everything about Brooke’s game, although her putter is certainly streaky.  She was sinking everything inside 10-feet in the first two rounds, but missed several of that distance the last two rounds.  Had she made most of them, she could easily have been 20-under par.  Her driving was long and accurate, her short game (generally 7-8-9 irons from the fairway, not requiring chips around the green) outstanding, and her composure exemplary.  Why the US networks don’t embrace Brooke as a bona fide superstar, I just don’t understand.  But if she keeps playing like she did in Hawaii, she may be Number One in short order.  With a personality to match.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Brooke played amazing last week. Her driving was impeccable and she hit a few irons and 3 woods off the tee and a driver off the deck on 14 the last day! But she also putted well except for the 3rd round. And that leads me to the weakness. When her putting is on, she wins or contends. Shocker, I know, but it’s basically the difference for Brooke every week. I’ve watched the last two years, and she’s switched putters several times, as well as technique (high hands, low hands, mallet vs blade, etc). She is a top 5 ball striker on the LPGA Tour (IMO). Her putting though needs some work, it’s just a little too inconsistent and is holding her back from more wins. To be clear, she is not a bad putter, she’s about average, all her other stats are in the upper ten percent though. If her putting was marginally better, we’d see more hardware. The fact she is tweaking her putting (different putters and styles) tells me she is trying to crack the puzzle, and she’s such a good athlete, I wouldn’t bet against her finding it, and finding it soon.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Brook Henderson is the ‘real deal’. Her game is a complete balance of ball striking, distance, short game and putting. Her scoring average is 12th, driving distance 11th, accuracy at 55th is a little soft but given she is still hits about 75% of her fairways, it’s very good. She’s also a bit weak with sand saves. But when you combine her 9th in GIR with her 19th in putts per GIR you have a great combination. In my opinion, she has two preeminent assets: she is a fearless driver and she is reliable under pressure. With few exceptions all tournaments are won and lost in the last 3 or 4 holes. One player sinks an unexpected shot (chip-in, a bunker hole out, a long putt) or another player misses a make-able putt, drives poorly or flubs a short shot. Brooke doesn’t do the unfathomable or miraculous but she doesn’t do things to beat herself either. At age 20 she has six tour victories; the record for a Canadian male and female is eight. I’m betting she makes it.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Brooke has turned into a really solid player in a short time, especially in the wind. She’s powerful off the tee, a great iron striker, and can really turn it on with the putter when she needs to. Plus, she has that killer instinct and ability to close out tournaments. It has been well documented that Brooke’s swing can get a little long and that obviously leads to her inconsistency off the tee. But that long swing has also resulted in six wins already, so who is to say? Regardless, it seems like Brooke might be ready to take that next step in her career and I’m excited to see that play out.

TJ Rule, GolfAwayTours (@GolfAwayTJ): There’s a lot to like about Brooke’s game, she’s one of the best ball strikers in the world.  Apparently she averaged over 295 yards off the tee on Saturday!  That’s like 5 yards further than my average drive!  Oh sorry, that was a typo, meant to say 50 yards.  She is supremely confident and aggressive and she may need to dial that back at times, but given she’s one the best ball strikers in the world, she sticks with what works for her.  Her “weakness” if there is one is obviously her putting, but that’s not to say she’s a bad putter, ranking 44th, 58th and 57th on tour the past three years.  But compared to the rest of her game, you’d have to consider that her biggest weakness.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: The guys and girls in the white lab coats at the PING plant in Phoenix must cover the company logo in embarrassment every time the worldwide TV audience sees Henderson looking like a 13-year-old swinging her Dad’s clubs. Given 2018 technology measuring club performance down to nano grams and millimetres per second, they have clubs that fit Henderson beyond precisely to absolutely optimize her swing. But there she is choked down four inches on a 48-inch driver. She even chokes down on her wedges. She gets it. I sure don’t. Outside of that, what’s not to like? She’s going to win more Majors.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Brooke plays golf with her foot firmly on the accelerator which is quite refreshing. She’s able to use her length to pick aggressive lines to the pin and even pulled off a driver-off-the-deck to set up a birdie on Sunday. Compared to many of the shorter hitters, who have to play tic-tac-toe golf, Brooke has a built in advantage, which she’s learning to use. As everybody has noted however, Brooke’s putting isn’t nearly as strong as her ball striking and it nearly cost her a couple of times in Hawaii. She looks very mechanical with the flat stick, constantly adjusting her hands and ball position. Hopefully, she’ll find a natural set-up that matches the rest of her game.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan announced last week that he would welcome legalized gambling on professional golf, believing it would help his Tour reach a wider audience. Is he right? Do you see any downside? 

Deeks: I have no doubt that he’s right, but I’m firmly against it.  I mean, why debase the game?  Do we really need to pander to a wider audience?  The downside to gambling is, of course, that it may lead to suspicions or accusations of cheating, or tanking, which is far easier for an individual practitioner than a team in a team sport.  Just keep gambling away from golf, in my opinion.

Loughry: I’m not sure what the play is here. It’s such a small part of professional golf and the gambling industry already, but will it help reach a wider audience, would it help millions engage in watching tournaments because they have money on the line? That’s a dream. For those that want to bet on golf, guess what, you can find somewhere to do it now. It’s not that hard. Do a quick Google search and voila, what do you want to bet on, lots of golf futures to place a wager on: Majors, money lists, upcoming tournaments. What I think the play is here, is to get it legalized and ensure the PGA Tour gets a percentage of the profits if they grant its blessing. That sounds like something the PGA Tour would be most interested in under the guise of reaching a wider audience or engaging more with their fans. If that’s the game, good luck commish, the NFL has been trying to break that door down for decades. I don’t really see a downside to having it legalized, I just don’t like it.

Schurman: This is pure greed by the PGA TOUR. Golf has a clean history regarding betting and ‘match fixing’; why open the door to potential temptation? If were Jay Monahan, I’d be more concerned about the three events that do not have major sponsors, the lack of a serious competition between the President’s Cup teams (which will be its demise) and injuries plaguing the top players.

Kaplan: He is absolutely correct. Gambling is here to stay and the PGA Tour would be wise to cash in on it. There are so many possibilities for different bets in golf. You can bet on the winner, who will make the cut, who will have the lowest round in the field, who will score the lowest in a certain grouping, etc… the sport is a gambler’s paradise. Sure, there will be some jackasses who will make bad bets and then try to blame certain players for their performances on social media and in person. But these incidents will be few and far between, and I can’t see them outweighing the potential good that gambling could do for the sport.

Rule: I think it’s a no brainer, although I’m not sure the sport is built for gambling like other sports such as the NFL. But gambling on a sport can only bring more people to the game and increase the number of TV viewers, so I don’t see any downside.  I can’t wait to bet on how long it takes for Ben Crane to hit his average tee shot, I’ll take the over!

Quinn: Is this the audience golf wants? NFL players are already putting up with the profane vitriol of Fantasy players whose Sunday dreams come up a yard or a dropped pass short. The mouth breathers are already getting too loud with their moronic shouts on Tour. Does Monahan want them screaming ‘miss it’ when a big money parlay rests on a putt? Maybe he took Eldrick at 8-1 in the Masters and wants to double down. The casinos have a big enough golf handle, and already launder enough money.

Mumford: I think Mr. Monahan sees big dollar signs. If the PGA Tour can negotiate a deal with legalized betting and collect 1% of the take as he’d like, that’s a huge win for the Tour. If it helps professional golf reach a wider audience, that translates into more ad revenue too. Otherwise, I don’t see any real gains for golf in general. The wider audience won’t automatically mean more rounds of golf or more equipment sales – just more eyeballs and more opportunity for cheating and scandal. Personally I don’t care one way or the other but I’ll wager (ha ha) that once gambling on golf is introduced, it won’t be long before there’s some allegation of cheating. Golf doesn’t need that kind of publicity.

Harbour Town, the site of last week’s RBC Heritage, is noteworthy as one of the shorter courses on the PGA Tour. While the winning score was about normal for a Tour event, the course is criticized for being tricked up and taking driver out of play on too many holes. What do you think? 

Deeks: While it’s not my personal favourite course, I think Harbour Town is a great test for the pro’s, for the very reason that they can’t just go out and bomb their way down the fairways.  I don’t believe it’s tricked up, unless you think that growing tree branches to overhang certain approaches is deliberate.  I do think it forces the pro’s to be more strategic, more creative, and more reliant on shot making vs. bombing-and-gouging.  In that sense, it’s almost links-like, and I love watching American college grads go nuts when they have to play the links game.

Loughry: Well, I don’t mind a mix of courses to provide different horses in the winner’s circle. Not every week needs to be played at 7400+, where the top 15 in driving distance or total driving flood the top of the leaderboard. That virtually eliminates other players from winning who have other high calibre skills (accuracy, putting, course strategy/management). And, I did see a couple of bombers play well last week. So, I don’t mind a Harbour Town like course on tour to mix it up and make players think their way around the course for a week, rather than pull out the big dog and rip it 14 times a round.

Schurman: It doesn’t matter what you do regarding course design and set-up; someone will complain! Most of this debate comes back to the distance the ball travels, the straightness and the height. These three technological changes have impacted the game to a point that we have two games. We have the old style of strategic, mentally challenging shot control that requires deft touch, controlled shots and a high level of skill. This game requires imagination, creativity and an ability to maneuver the ball. Then we have another game that calls for explosive power, towering shots and sound putting from long distances. The old style advocates criticize the modern game for its lack of intellectual demands and reliance on ‘feel’. The modern players say “technology is good for the growth of the game”. I’m caught like the monkey with my hand in the hole clutching the bean. I don’t want to face what my distance would be if we had old equipment; I don’t want to return to greens being cut twice per week but I miss 8 and 9 iron bump ‘n runs. I prefer Merion to Erin Hills but my favorite is Augusta National where you have the ultimate blend. Back to the question: nobody is taking the driver out of any one’s hands! The course is there to be played in any manner you think you can win. Since the beginning of time certain holes called for a lay-up off the tee. You decide what works for you!

Kaplan: Nonsense. It’s boring seeing players hitting drivers and then mid-irons on every hole each week.  Harbour Town makes the players strategize and demands precision on its approach shots. I wish more courses did that.

Rule: Generally I love courses that reward creativity and aren’t approaching 8,000 yards, so in theory I should really like Harbour Town, but having played it, it’s not my favourite.  The trees overhang way too much on some holes in my opinion and need to be trimmed back.  Not much mind you, as that would take away from the strategic value of the course design, but I’d love to take a chainsaw to some of the trees, especially that damn tree on the left side of 15 by the green, not that I’m bitter or anything.

Quinn: It’s a Dye design, with a young Jack watching, so it was tricked up before the seeds were sown, but not overly so. It’s refreshing to watch the boys have to shape tee shots, hit less than driver, and try to find some of the smallest greens on Tour. It’s a fun event.

Mumford: A course like Harbour Town certainly levels the playing field and gives the shorter hitters a chance. It also makes you realize that all that talk about courses needing to be lengthened or the golf ball needing to be dialled back is hogwash. Short, tight tracks still have a place in the professional game and serve to showcase accuracy and creativity. Unfortunately, they’re few and far between given the regular diet of DWP courses we see most weeks (Driver, Wedge, Putter). The PGA Tour has a nice mix of venues and it would be a shame if they tilted too far in favour of one style or the other.

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