The high-stakes golf betting game Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas play, explained
Jared C. Tilton
From weekend hackers to tour pros, the desire to put a little money on the line is near universal among golfers. As the first episode of the Netflix docuseries “Full Swing” chronicles the friendship and rivalry of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, plenty of bets were placed on and off the course. See: A $1,000 “guess a card” game (on a private jet, of course) and trying to throw a ball into the hole for $100.
(Editor’s Note: Golf Digest is recapping and analyzing every episode of the new series, which you can check out here. Also be sure to listen to our limited-run podcast series found in our Local Knowledge feed, where our editors discuss every episode.)
Yet, it was the high-stakes betting game that Spieth and JT played during a PGA Championship practice round at Southern Hills that will intrigue avid golfers the most. Given the docuseries is tailored to those unfamiliar with golf as much as it is for diehards, the episode didn’t dive much into the specifics of the “hammer game” the two played. But for those looking to add the game into their weekend matches, we’ve got all of the details.
The Hammer Game
Stepping onto the first tee at Southern Hills, Spieth asked Thomas what game they should play, with JT responding, “We’ll do a hammer game.” The two decided on “$50 hammer, birdie double,” which Spieth proposed. Though that means little to many fans, to anyone familiar with the hammer game, that wager is … high stakes.
Hammer takes on many different forms, but in its simplest version, the game is match play, with each hole worth a certain amount that can be doubled if one side “hammers” the other. The game starts with this initial per-hole wager on the first tee, often $1, $2 or $5 because the values can compound very quickly.
To start the match, either player can “hammer” the other (by simply saying the word), which doubles the bet on the hole. If one player is in trouble off the tee or is in a tricky spot around the green, the opposing player can hammer the other. Once the initial hammer has been made in the match, however, it rotates from player to player, so you can never play two hammers in a row.
There is typically no limit to the number of hammers that can be played each hole. This is where the game can get expensive. In the earlier example, if the player who was hammered after a poor tee shot recovers well and is in position to win the hole, they can hammer back, doubling the bet again. So, an initial $5 bet, for example, could double to $10 and then to $20 in one hole.
Jared C. Tilton
In the Spieth and JT match, each hole was worth $50, with a birdie doubling the wager. So, if a hammer is played on a hole and someone makes a birdie, that hole is worth $200. If multiple hammers are thrown and a player makes a birdie … well, you can do the math. It’s a high-stakes match by design for the two major champions, with Thomas saying money games in practice rounds are “kind of good prep for a tournament.”
In many versions of the game—like the one Spieth and JT play—a player can hammer the other at any point, including when the ball is in the air or a putt is rolling to the hole. On one hole during the practice round match, Spieth faced a 12-foot putt breaking significantly from left-to-right. With the ball halfway to the hole and appearing destined to miss high, Thomas yelled out “hammer,” only to have the ball take a sharp final turn and drop in the cup.
Given the putt was originally worth $100, JT’s hammer doubled it to $200. “What a terrible minute that was,” Thomas said, highlighting the back-and-forth nature of the game. Though the episode doesn’t provide a final tally for the match, we’re left to study the evidence, notably Spieth’s “Never get mad at free money” comment and Thomas' “Watching them walk away with your cash, and they have bragging rights on you until the next time you play again, it sucks.”