Gambling on the PGA Tour is one of the worst kept secrets in golf. While technically prohibited by the powers-that-be, practice-round wagers are a common part of culture on Tour. And, of course, Phil Mickelson.
But did you know that wagering extends to tournament rounds as well? Can you imagine something like this in any other sport?
A defensive back yells to Tom Brady: “Hey Brady, $10 says I pick off your next pass!”
LeBron James is at the free throw line when someone yells from the opponent’s bench: “Bet you 50 bucks you miss!”
Surprising as it is, as much as the PGA Tour hates it, players apparently gamble during tournament rounds. Or so the Undercover Tour Pro tells Golf Digest. The pro, who identifies himself only by saying he’s won a tournament on the PGA Tour, says the way gambling happens during tournament rounds often goes something like this..
A pairing knows they have no shot of making the cut, admitting it’s difficult to get motivated in such a situation, the pro says a player will make a wager. The same thing on Sunday when players are near the bottom of the leaderboard.
As the pro says, “Even if I shoot 65, I move up maybe 10 places. And a solid round like 69 or 70 is going to yield something like $1,500 more in prize money, pre-tax. It might sound illogical, but the glory of taking a few hundo off a colleague becomes more interesting than a potentially slightly larger cut of a purse.”
What? In the “every shot counts” FedEx Cup era, where players are trying their hardest on every shot, why would they need a wager to get motivated? Especially when most of them have plenty of money?
And yet, this is the reality the PGA Tour tries to sweep under the rug.
“At the end of a disappointing week, the last thing you want to do is grind. But if you’re not always trying to get it going, you’ve got about zero chance of discovering that thing—some little key or thought—that turns your game around.”
Thus, wagering during tournament rounds isn’t some high-stakes Mickelsonian recklessness: It’s a potentially important part of staying locked in. Searching for a swing key. Grinding over every putt. Competitors need something to play for. Taking that away doesn’t help the game any, and indeed, it could hurt it.
Heck, there was a time when playing tournament golf, that is, for prize money, was seen as a dishonorable thing (hence the veneration of amatuer golf). We’ve collectively moved on from that orientation. The Tour still feels gambling is disreputable. It’s time to move on from this orientation as well.