Olympics golf picks: The specific reason our experts like Justin Thomas to win gold
Down on golf in the Olympics? No interest in the Olympics in general? Don’t feel like staying up until 3 a.m. to watch golf this week? These are very normal feelings to have for these 2020 Tokyo Games.
The cure for all of those feelings, though, is having a little skin in the game. That’s where our experts come in. We’ve done the research on the host venue, Kasumigaseki Golf Club and poured over all the stats, and, hopefully, made a few informed decisions you can choose to back or fade. Having said that, fading us is a very dangerous game these days—with our Christopher Powers nailing Cameron Champ at 150-1 last week and Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports hitting Collin Morikawa at The Open (40-1) the week before.
Though our experts are mostly split on who is taking home the gold, a few of us are in lockstep on Justin Thomas, who always eats in no-cut events, specifically ones in Asia. Eight of his 14 career tour wins have come in no-cut events, and four of those occurred in Asia. These are the types of trends that are impossible to ignore.
Our entire betting panel comprises an anonymous caddie; Pat Mayo of Mayo Media Network/DraftKings; Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel; Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com; and Alldrick of FanShare Sports. Read on to see who we like this week at the Olympics.
Olympics golf picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Collin Morikawa (7-1, William Hill) — Far and away the best player in this field, perhaps in the entire world, on a course emphasizing ball-striking with only 59 players. It would be shocking if he doesn’t medal.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Justin Thomas (11-1, DraftKings) — The irons have been concerning the past few months, but it’s tough to overlook JT’s success in this type of event. He’s already won three times in no-cut tournaments in Asia, in fact, no-cut events make up a majority of his career wins. Additionally, he’s done some fine work at courses where Tom Fazio has laid his hands over the years with wins at Firestone and Quail Hollow.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings) — Reed is actually a little overvalued in my win-simulation model, but that’s not uncommon. He really can shine in no-cut events and typically represents the United States well. What really helps is that Reed’s birdie-or-better rate numbers are a lot better than you might think, given his elite scrambling.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Justin Thomas (11-1, DraftKings) — Thomas hasn’t been very good since his victory at The Players, but we are starting to see signs of him rounding into form. The course and format should play right into Thomas’ hands. The angulation of the greens at Kasumigaseki Country Club requires you to be precise with your irons and they reward proper distance control. Also, with only 59 golfers in the field and no-cut, Thomas should be set up to thrive. In fact, nine of his 14 PGA Tour victories have come in small-field, no-cut events.
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Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Collin Morikawa (7-1, William Hill) — It’s unfortunate this number is so short after Jon Rahm’s WD. Still, The Open champion’s game should peak yet again at the Olympics. The emphasis will be on ball-striking, and we just watched one of the most impressive ball-striking exhibitions of recent memory at Royal St. George’s. I’m boosting these odds by parlaying it with Katie Ledecky winning medals in swimming and some other heavy favorites to get this up to the 10-to-12 range.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Tommy Fleetwood (30-1, BetMGM) — I will simp for any player that actually wants to be in Tokyo this week, and it’s quite obvious Tommy Fleetwood wants to be there. He’s also played better of late, making four of his last five cuts, including a top 20 at the Wells Fargo. He’s definitely disappointed me, and many other bettors, on multiple occasions this year, but this is an irresistible number for a player of his caliber, especially considering he’s all-in on the whole Olympics experience.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (40-1, BetMGM) — Not only does the South African rank 21st for SG/total on courses of this length in the field this week, he also ranks fifth for opportunities gained over the last two months. Add to this that he ranks first for SG/putting over the last two months, and it’s fair to say his game is on point right now.
Recent results: Golf Digest's betting panel has been red-hot the past two seasons—and we’re finishing this season HOT. Our experts have now predicted 10 of the past 22 winners—an insane clip in predicting golf events (after going up 225.30 units last season!). Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports added his second win in six events, predicting Collin Morikawa’s victory at The Open (at 40-1, after hitting Garrick Higgo at the Palmetto, also at 40-1). Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel predicted Cam Davis’ win in this column at the Rocket Mortgage (at 100-1)! Stephen Hennessey predicted Jason Kokrak’s victory at the Charles Schwab Challenge a few weeks ago (at 45-1)! He also picked Jordan Spieth (11-1) at the Valero Texas Open. That continued a strong 2021—at The Players, Christopher Powers and Rick Gehman called Justin Thomas’ victory (18-1). That was each of their second accurate predictions of 2021, with Powers hitting Koepka (50-1) and Gehman and Gdula calling Daniel Berger at Pebble Beach (14-1). Pat Mayo nailed Collin Morikawa at the WGC-Workday at 33-1 in addition to Koepka at the WMPO. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "Be Right," (below) where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "Be Right" wherever you get your podcasts!
Olympics golf picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win
Caddie: Sungjae Im (22-1, FanDuel) — All I have to say is this kid has all the game, and he will be more than prepared to shoot a lower number on the first day. I’ll tell you: The nerves will be tough to overcome, but they’re pumping at a high level any time you’re in contention. Sungjae plays fearless golf, and I think that will really help him in this situation.
Mayo: Si Woo Kim (55-1, DraftKings) — Look, we all know the narratives surrounding Kim and his military service. That aside, this number is just too large for a player who owns this high of a win rate. Although he’s just as likely to come last as he is first, that still happens at a much higher degree than a lot of others in the field.
Gdula: Mito Pereira (100-1, DraftKings) — Pereira has good distance off the tee, which should matter at Kasumigaseki, given the length dispersion across the scorecard. Pereira’s odds have already shortened from 150-1 to 100-1, but he remains a viable longshot.
Gehman: Adri Arnaus (200-1, BetMGM) — Arnaus is no stranger to a big stage, and he’s no stranger to competing against the best players in the world. Arnaus makes his living on the European Tour, where he has piled up five top-12 finishes in his past 15 starts. I’m more impressed about who else was in those fields. Arnaus was on the first page of the leader board in victories by Matt Fitzpatrick, Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey. This moment will not be too big for him.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Thomas Pieters (70-1, DraftKings) — The Belgian tends to pop in big events. He was around the lead at Winged Foot in September. And he also finished T-6 at the 2018 PGA, which you could liken to this year’s Olympics with some really hot, Zoysia fairways. Pieters is super long and can get hot with his irons (he’s second in SG/approach and seventh in SG/off the tee over the past 24 rounds, per Fantasy National)—so I think he’s got the potential to go low and contend here.
Powers, Golf Digest: Si Woo Kim (55-1, DraftKings) — He’s not quite at Cam Champ odds, but the fact you can find Si Woo north of 50 with everything he’s playing for this week is a must-bet, in my opinion. A lot of pressure, yes, but Si Woo seems to relish the pressure, his best golf often coming in the biggest events (ninth at Memorial, 12th at the Masters, ninth at the Players). For Kim, the Olympics might be the biggest event he’s ever played in, considering the circumstances.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Rikuya Hoshino (130-1, DraftKings) — Hoshino has two victories in his last five events played on Japanese soil. We can forgive his recent three missed cust due to all the harsh travelling restrictions after jet-setting around the world to play in four events across three separate continents. Playing in front of a home crowd will give him a huge advantage, too.
Olympics golf picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Justin Thomas (11-1, DraftKings) — JT’s game has been OK recently—but it will need to be much better than OK to win the gold medal. Sure, his game might rise to the next level while representing his country. But give me Morikawa, Rory or some of these other elites who have been playing more consistently at a higher level right now.
Mayo: Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings) — Betting against Captain America is tough when he’s representing his country, but you’d think Sandwich to Minneapolis to Tokyo in a three-week span is eventually going to catch up to him.
Gdula: Rory McIlroy (14-1, BetMGM) — It can be hard to poke holes in a lot of the golfers at the top of the field, but McIlroy is the most obvious exception. McIlroy’s recent struggles are overstated, but that’s not to say the data is pointing to a win at 14-1. My model sees him as vastly overvalued.
Gehman: Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings) — I admire Reed’s willingness to make the trek to Tokyo but with travel logistics, he won’t be arriving in Japan until Wednesday afternoon. He will be playing Kasumigaseki blind and almost certainly jet-lagged. Throw all that out the window and Reed is still the worst approach player of anyone in his pricing range. That’s too many red flags for me to back Captain America.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Sungjae Im (22-1, FanDuel) — This is a fade on Sungjae’s number—no doubt, we know the motivation to win this week. But Sungjae has been so inconsistent, and against such a strong field, I just don’t see betting this number. Of course, I will be rooting for Sungjae and Si Woo Kim (and probably betting on Si Woo), but at this short number on Sungjae, it’s a pass for me.
Powers, Golf Digest: Hideki Matusyama (14-1, William Hill) — All we heard about after his Masters victory was how much he’s dealt with the immense media pressure from his home country of Japan his entire career. This week, he’s playing in his home country as the Masters champ and they’re all going to expect him to win gold. Too much on his shoulders.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings) — Reed was given the nod to play in the Olympics very late and his preparation for the event will hence be awful. He has played in six of the last eight weeks too so it’s likely fatigue will be an issue.
Olympics golf picks: Matchups
Caddie: Paul Casey (-120) over Patrick Reed (DraftKings) — Casey and Johnny (his caddie) have been in Tokyo scouting out this place for days. Reed’s gonna show up with his instructor, Kevin Kirk, to loop for him without having seen Kasumigaseki before. And pound for pound, give me Casey’s ball-striking over Reed’s if all things were equal. But they’re not—there’s an edge here, so take it.
Mayo: Thomas Pieters (+115) over Alex Noren (DraftKings) — Noren has been playing better golf recently, but it’s all been at birdie-fest courses in weak PGA fields. I’m not exactly sure how he’s this strong a favorite over Pieters in this spot.
Gdula: Abraham Ancer (-105) over Shane Lowry (FOX Bet) — Ancer and Lowry have similar tee-to-green splits over the past 50 rounds, but where they separate is with the putter. That puts me on Ancer in this matchup.
Gehman: Joaquin Niemann (-110) over Shane Lowry (DraftKings) — I strongly considered picking Niemann to win, that’s how highly I think of him. He’s been piling up birdies in bunches, which is the recipe for success in a no-cut event. Not only is he long off the tee (ninth on tour), but he’s much improved on the putting surfaces (23rd on tour). Speaking of putting, bentgrass is his best putting surface, gaining 0.21 strokes per round on the surface, per the RickRunGood.com golf database.
Hennessey: Mackenzie Hughes (+120) over Jhonattan Vegas (William Hill) — The Canadian has played great golf in the past two majors—contending in both. So this moment won’t be too big for him. Sure, Vegas contended at TPC Twin Cities … but give me the guy who has those major-tested nerves—plus really consistent finishes over the past three tournaments—at plus-money.
Powers: Corey Conners (-110) over Sungjae Im (DraftKings) — Dream scenario here would be Conners and Im both medaling, but Conners finishing higher. I really want both Im and Si Woo Kim to get it done and avoid the military service in their home country, but Im doesn’t have as much pressure on him given he should, theoretically, have a few more chances at this because of his young age. That, coupled with the fact he hasn’t put four good rounds together in a very long time, have me leaning with Conners, who is ranked in the top 3 in this field in SG/off-the-tee, tee-to-green and approach.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Christiaan Bezuidenhout (-118) over Si Woo Kim (PointsBet) — As you can see above, Bezuidenhout is my favorite to win. Kim on the other hand has withdrawn in two of his last six events and only finished top 35 in one of them.
Matchup results from the 3M Open: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Matthew Wolff (+132) over Emiliano Grillo); Gehman: 1 for 1 (Charl Schwartzel (-105) over Matthew Wolff); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Sergio Garcia (-110) over Keegan Bradley); Powers: 1 for 1 (Jhonattan Vegas (-120) over Stewart Cink); Hennessey: 1 for 1 (Pat Perez (-125) over Matt Kuchar); Caddie, Alldrick: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Hennessey: 23-13-3 (up 8.33 units); Alldrick: 23-14-1 (up 3.93 units); Powers: 20-17-4 (up 1.14 units); Gdula: 20-19-2 (up 0.04 units); Gehman: 18-21-2 (down 3.35 units); Caddie: 14-23-4 (down 9.22 units); Mayo: 15-23-2 (down 9.23 units).
Olympics golf picks: Top 10
Caddie: Xander Schauffele (-115, Bet365) — This is usually the lock of the week in a major field—with a field of 59 with a lot of lesser names, this feels like a great bet.
Mayo: Thomas Pieters (+350, DraftKings) — Pieters missed the podium by a place in Rio and has the perfect game, theoretically, for what this course demands. It will require enough distance to manage the daunting par 4s and 5s, with enough touch to mitigate three putts and unforced scrambling errors.
Gdula: Corey Conners (+200, DraftKings) — Conners is actually the best value in the field to win outright, but I can’t fully trust the putter yet, and so I’m looking at him for a top 10 at +200 odds, a number he outperformed in my simulations pretty comfortably.
Gehman: Mackenzie Hughes (+400, William Hill) — Hughes is the definition of a “popper”—off-setting missed cuts with numerous top-10 finishes. He’s also streaky, and he’s in the midst of a great stretch right now. He was the 54-hole leader at Torrey Pines before falling to T-15 on Sunday. He’s had two other top-15 finishes since—a T-6 at The Open and a T-14 at Rocket Mortgage. With the ability to catch fire with the putter, Hughes can be noisy this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Patrick Reed (+162, Bet365) — Captain America might start off slow, coming in hot on Wednesday. But this is a business trip. He didn't medal at the 2016 Olympics, and now he gets the opportunity for a second shot. He gets four rounds in this no-cut event to make his way into the top 10. This is my favorite bet of these Olympics.
Powers, Golf Digest: Corey Conners (+200, DraftKings) — As you can see in my matchup bet, I’m pretty high on Conners this week. Really wish one of these books would offer a “to medal” prop, because I’d also bet Conners to do that, too.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Jhonattan Vegas (+350, DraftKings) — Vegas comes into this event ranked 10th for total strokes-gained on courses of this length, third for total strokes-gained over the last two months and fifth for opportunities gained. So, all in all, should go well this week.
Top-10 results from the 3M Open: Everybody: 0 for 1.
Top-10 results from this season: Gehman: 9 for 38 (up 13.35 units); Hennessey: 7 for 36 (up 3.13 units); Powers: 8 for 38 (up 0.63 units); Tour caddie: 6 for 37 (down 14.85 units); Gdula: 3 for 37 (down 18.5 units); Mayo: 2 for 37 (down 22 units); Alldrick: 2 for 36 (down 26 units).
By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
29 — The number of shots separating the Gold Medalist (Justin Rose) and the golfer who finished last (Ricardo Gouveia) in the 2016 Olympic Games.
500 — The approximate number of yards added to Kasumigaseki Country Club by Tom Fazio during his 2016 redesign, lengthening the course to 7,447 yards.
11 — The number of golfers in this field who are gaining at least one stroke per round since the start of 2021 (minimum of 20 rounds). The top is Collin Morikawa (+1.91) and bottom is Jhonattan Vegas (+1.05).
2.05 — The number of strokes gained per round by Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy in no-cut events since the start of 2015.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.