This time last year, Jordan Baker was halfway to winning $2.52 million. Baker, a professional golfer and member of the EuroPro Tour, had placed a four-event parlay bet on golf’s 2017 major championships. He’d successfully predicted both Sergio García’s Masters victory and Brooks Koepka’s win at the U.S. Open already, and he was holding out hope that Rickie Fowler could claim his first major victory at Royal Birkdale.
Baker had put down just two pounds on the bet, but because of the parlay’s almost unheard of million-to-one odds, his payout stood to be massive (although the betting site reportedly has a £500,000 maximum payout for golf bets). At the time of the bet, Fowler’s 28-1 odds to win the Open were the best of any of Baker’s four picks, and by the start of the Open, Fowler had become one of the tournament favorites at 15-1 odds. If Fowler won that weekend and Justin Thomas picked up the PGA Championship the following month, Baker’s whole life could change.
Unfortunately for Baker, while Thomas did take home the Wanamaker Trophy last August, Jordan Spieth stole the Claret Jug after a stunning Sunday performance that at one point saw him hit a crucial shot from near the Royal Birkdale practice range, behind a Titleist trailer. Fowler finished the tournament 12 shots back of Spieth in a tie for 22nd place. Baker, who’d planned to “buy my mum a house, take dad on a golfing trip around the U.K., buy myself a nice Ferrari and then take all the lads on holiday to Vegas” with his winnings, had to settle for the legend of correctly predicting three out of golf’s four majors in a year that saw three first-time winners. But Baker isn’t the only person who’s lost a bet on Rickie Fowler at a major championship. In fact, Fowler is one of the most popular major bets in golf.
“A lot of people that bet on golf will try to zero in on the young golfers that have a lot of potential that they can get higher odds on,” said Jeff Sherman, the golf oddsmaker at Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. “They were doing that with Fowler when he first came onto the scene. They were betting him right away.”
Fowler turned pro in 2009, and since then he’s come about as close as you can to winning a major without actually taking home a title. His first top-five finish in a major came at the 2011 Open Championship, followed by a top-10 finish at the 2013 U.S. Open, a top-five finish at all 2014 majors, a top-five finish at the 2017 U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and second place at this year’s Masters. He’s consistently been a fan favorite—remember the difference between his 18th-hole cheering section at the Masters and that of eventual winner Patrick Reed?—and he’s been a betting favorite, too.
According to Sherman, Westgate doesn’t keep track of historical data, so there’s no strict, quantifiable way to gauge Fowler’s overall impact on the golf betting scene, but since at least the 2017 Masters, Fowler has been in the top five in Westgate’s books in ticket count and total money wagered at nearly every major. At last month’s U.S. Open, he finished first in both categories; at the Masters in April, he was third in ticket count (behind only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson) and first in money wagered. To out-earn a resurgent, fused-backed Tiger Woods at what amounts to basically his home turf is a marvel. Part of that has to do with Fowler’s popularity, yes—he made a near-immediate impact on the game when he turned pro and lured in scores of fans with his top-level play and interesting fashion choices. The rest is due to his perfect confluence of skill, consistent performance, and youth.
“A lot of people like to pick the golfer that is supposedly the best golfer that hasn’t won a major yet. We saw a lot of that with Sergio García over the years, and now Rickie Fowler kind of has that title,” Sherman said. “In his case, I think it’s just—people have seen him do consistently well in majors over the last few years, so [he’s] somebody that a lot of people are including in their staking plan.”
As of Monday night, Fowler is carrying 16-1 odds going into the Open, tied for third-lowest for the tournament according to Westgate, and he sits at third in ticket count and fifth in money wagered with a few days left to go. Fowler has clearly been anointed with the Sergio García betting-favorite moniker, and support comes for him no matter where his odds are placed.
“Once in a while he’ll be a liability of ours even though his odds are short,” Sherman said. “He’s just an extremely popular golfer in relation to the other ones. We have some other guys like Dustin Johnson, who’s generally been the favorite [in recent tournaments], and even he doesn’t command as much [betting support] as Rickie Fowler’s been getting. … In that region of the golfers at the top, Fowler’s been a constant up there.”
To be ahead of players like Johnson and Rory McIlroy—whose odds are often shorter than Fowler’s—in support numbers is notable, but they have something Fowler doesn’t: major victories under their belts. Should Fowler’s winless streak continue, how long will that show of support last?
Historically, European players are more likely to win at the Open Championship than any of the other three majors. Since World War II, there have been 17 Opens won by Europeans, compared with 13 Masters, five U.S. Opens, and four PGA Championships (going back to when the tournament changed formats in 1958). Tommy Fleetwood, who first really made a name for himself with a fourth-place finish at last year’s U.S. Open and followed that up with a second-place finish this year, currently leads Westgate’s ticket count and is second in money wagered on the Open. Henrik Stenson is also top five in both categories, and Justin Rose joins their ranks at no. 4 in total ticket count. A level of comfort with the links is crucial for this tournament, and that gives European golfers an edge.
“They’re more used to that style of play,” Sherman said. “So a lot of people tend to spread their wagers out on Europeans more so than you see in the other three majors.”
Yet the Open Championship has been a good venue for Fowler’s skills in the past. At the Open in 2011, at just 22 years old, he recorded his first top-five placement in a major, finishing in the company of Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson, and Dustin Johnson. Then, at the wild 2014 Open at Royal Liverpool—which saw the winner, Rory McIlroy, finish at 17-under par—Fowler recorded his second straight top-two major finish.
Fowler hasn’t done better than T-22 at the Open since 2014, but this weekend at Carnoustie could see a return to his past form. Fowler has yet to win a tournament this season (not counting the Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s invite-only tournament that included just 18 competitors), but he has played well on big stages, and his game has looked solid in recent events. He took Patrick Reed down to the wire at the Masters in April, and he has 11 top-25 finishes on his record this season, including last weekend’s Scottish Open, which has traditionally been a good warm-up ahead of the Open.
Carnoustie is expected to have the same baked-out conditions that Fowler tackled at Gullane, where he opened his scoring on Thursday with a round of 64. He eventually finished tied for sixth, all the while doing things like driving to putting distance on a 461-yard par 4.
If Fowler can maintain that form this week, Fowler he may not be a bad bet. Though given the pattern of increased betting support for young golfers—a byproduct of the Tiger Woods era, with bettors trying to identify the next phenom before he fully takes form—Fowler’s odds may not be in bettors’ favor any time soon.
“We’re seeing that style of wagering pattern with other golfers like Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau,” Sherman said. “They command a lot of betting support in the majors and in the weekly tournaments because ... they have the chance to win and win quickly, and you’re not going to get that value and their odds once that happens.”
Fowler has been the flag bearer for that phenomenon, one of the game’s most consistent performers and dynamic personalities. No matter the stage he’s on or the competition he’s up against, Fowler has garnered betting support.
But, eventually, that has its limits. This holding pattern can go on for only so long before it tips in one direction or another—Fowler may finally win a major, which could shift support to the next up-and-comer, or, if he goes through an extended period of poor performances, that support may dissipate altogether.
For the time being, though, things seem to be holding steady. And unless Fowler, clad in his Sunday neon orange, grabs the Claret Jug this weekend (on his own terms—he’s already partied with it when it belonged to Spieth), expect to see his name toward the top of betting lists come PGA Championship time in August.
“As long as he’s up there in the top 10, top 15 and flirting with a win,” Sherman said, “people are going to continue to use this betting pattern.”