Undercover Tour Pro: There *is* gambling at Bushwood, and during tour events, too
Illustration by Alex Williamson
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Golf Digest. Shortly after its publication, the PGA Tour announced a new gambling policy.
More gambling goes on during PGA Tour practice rounds than you might guess. Some players, mostly earnest rookies, go out to chart the course and work on their games, but I'd say the majority of groups on a Tuesday or Wednesday have action going. If there's a standard bet out here, it's a $100 nassau with partners. You also see a lot of $200 and $300 closeouts. Even if I link up with another single for just a handful of holes, I like to play for something. It's a way to stay sharp.
It's a rule that there's no gambling allowed, so tour officials don't like it. But there are a lot of things they do that we don't like.
If you really want to get amped and are looking for a game "with a comma," it's a more select crowd. But not hard to find. Some guys are pretty loud about the money games they organize, where the stakes get to five or eight or even 10 grand during a normal week. Away from tour events, the games can get stupid. Like 40 and 50 grand a man. You need thick skin for those.
Because when we play with our own cash, we talk like we never would in a tournament. Of guys I've played with, I'd say Ernie Els is the Hall of Fame needler. If you're Big Easy's partner and aren't holding up your end, he'll ride you to the point of tears.
I've won once on the PGA Tour. I spring for a first-class plane ticket now and then, but mostly I live modestly.
A thousand dollars is the perfect amount to get my full attention—it hurts to remove that kind of heft from my wallet—but I'll play for more with anyone who wants. I don't care if you're top 10 or trying to get into Web.com events, there are no strokes.
The other thing you won't find on the PGA Tour is Venmo or PayPal. All debts are settled in cash. Not paying within 24 hours is grounds for public humiliation, which usually means getting called out on the range, though guys have taken to social media, too. When I go on the road, my last stop before the airport is always the bank.
I'll gamble on tournament days. If it's a Friday and everyone in my group is clearly missing the cut, I'll suggest $100 skins the rest of the way in. Same thing for Sunday morning. If the guy I'm paired with and I are starting in last place or damn near, it's hard to get motivated. 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. Maybe it's the tactility of cash, rather than the blink of a couple right-hand digits in my bank balance, that gets my blood pumping.
In competition, I've never started a wager on the first tee. It's a back-nine move, and only late in the front if you both make a bunch of bogeys early. Generally the time to start is the minute the golf starts looking like a race to see who can finish the hole the fastest, because playing with indifference is dangerous. 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. It happens all the time: A guy misses three cuts in a row and then wins.
You could call me a bit of a degenerate. Each year when we play in Las Vegas during football season, I'll spend an afternoon in a sports book letting five figures ride. I do it for the rush, which is maybe the same reason other people do drugs or dangerous sports. But if you're not used to feeling heat, how can you expect to be ready when your moment comes and you're standing over a golf shot worth half a million? —With Max Adler