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Is Rickie Fowler the Worst Bet in Golf?

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler, back in the moustache-and-pukka-necklace days. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License].
  • Rickie Fowler is a nice guy, and a good player
  • He’s also possibly the worst bet in golf right now
  • Please bet on other people

Let me start off by saying that I really like Rickie Fowler. I like the way he plays golf, I like the way he approaches the game, I’ve listened to podcasts where he talks to Lance Armstrong or whomever and he seems like a good guy. He’s been one of the best golfers in the world for many years and if he’s your favorite golfer, I understand you.

We’ve written quite a lot here about how Tiger Woods is never a value bet, because hordes of bettors just want to plonk down their $20 on the Tiger Woods experience. That has calmed down a bit recently, and Tiger has started playing good enough golf to enter the territory of favorites who never get good odds anyway. Thus I’ve been on the hunt for other players that, despite their obvious talents and charms, shouldn’t be on your radar as a bettor.

Rickie Fowler is among the best and certainly most famous golfers in the world. He is not, however, one of the winningest golfers on the PGA Tour.

That’s what brought me to Rickie Fowler, who is among the best and certainly most famous golfers in the world. He is not, however, one of the winningest golfers on the PGA Tour, and that’s where the problems start.

Rickie Fowler’s odds have him as a favorite

To use a somewhat egregious example, look at the US Open futures market:

Player Odds to win the 2018 US Open
Jordan Spieth +900
Dustin Johnson +1000
Rory McIlroy +1000
Tiger Woods +1400
Rickie Fowler +1400
Justin Thomas +1600

Rickie Fowler currently shares +1400 with Tiger Woods, a mark apparently reserved for overrated celebrities. In terms of implied probability, he’s not far off Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, or Rory McIlroy. He is ahead of Justin Thomas.

To be clear: Justin Thomas has just become the #1 golfer in the world, according to OWGR. He’s won eight times on the PGA Tour, including the 2017 PGA Championship, and led the tour in official money in 2017. He also won the FedEx Cup in 2017. He has accomplished all this despite earning his tour card during the 2015 season.

If Rickie Fowler wants his career to match the achievements of Justin Thomas’ last two years, he has a lot of work to do. If Rickie Fowler wants to match the career accomplishments of Webb Simpson (currently listed at +6600), he has a long way to go. If Rickie Fowler wants to match the career accomplishments of Martin Kaymer, who is right now listed at +10000, he has an awfully long way to go.

Those measurements are dumb, you think. OWGR doesn’t mean anything, you’ve said to yourself. Career achievements don’t mean anything for future performance, or Tiger would be pure value. How does Rickie measure up in stats that do mean something?

Rickie Fowler’s stats are worse than Tiger Woods’

You heard me: worse value than Tiger Woods.

Let’s first look at Strokes Gained, and how Rickie compares to the players listed as his peers on the odds sheet.

Player Odds Strokes Gained Average
Jordan Spieth +900 1.325
Dustin Johnson +1000 2.199
Rory McIlroy +1000 1.233
Tiger Woods +1400 1.629
Rickie Fowler +1400 0.907
Justin Thomas +1600 2.019

Rickie Fowler is giving up a shot per round to Justin Thomas, and is favored to beat him in a four-round tournament. Tiger Woods isn’t a particularly good bet, but he’s miles ahead of Rickie Fowler, and even McIlroy and Spieth. Dustin Johnson gains five strokes a tournament on Rickie Fowler, and for all that gets 2.3 percentage points in implied probability.

Dustin Johnson gains five strokes a tournament on Rickie Fowler, and for all that gets 2.3 percentage points in implied probability.

None of these players are offering great value, but sportsbooks going too short on favorites is nothing new. What is new is that Rickie Fowler isn’t measurably a favorite, with Strokes Gained stats that put him somewhere around Kevin Streelman and Brendan Steele.

Why is Rickie Fowler overrated?

The simple answer is that people like Rickie Fowler. Some say it’s because he’s always available for the fans or media. Some say it’s because he’s brash and enthusiastic in a way golfers generally are not. Some say it’s because he has worn a flat-brim cap deep into adulthood without an ounce of shame.

Whatever the reason, Rickie Fowler has always been a sympathetic/eminently marketable figure on tour, and carried the torch of “flashy, promising youngster” in the long interregnum between Anthony Kim taking insurance money and Justin Thomas finishing puberty.

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler’s flashy appearance is a big part of his outsized name recognition. Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC License].
Rickie is also capable of playing at the sharp end of some of the biggest tournaments in the world. He’s finished very high on the leaderboard at a couple majors, and when he makes a run on Sunday and finishes at the Masters in second place, it’s a great story and we all feel great. The broadcast focuses in on him, and we see the interview where he says he is “ready to go win a major.”

The problem is that he’s on the oddsheet sandwiched between guys who have already won a lot of majors (Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy), guys who are on their way to win a lot of majors (Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth), and guys that make you scratch your head and say wow, how does Dustin Johnson only have one major.

There’s also the perception that Rickie is a young player, and that one day soon he’s going to turn the corner and start winning everything. I’ll leave you with this uncomfortable stat: All of golf’s current major champions are under the age of 28. Rickie Fowler turns 30 this year.

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Alex spent so long feigning an interest in baseball that he became our go-to guy for sports nobody else here knows about. Tennis player, golf nut, rugby fan and washed out half-miler. Career .600 against Ryan Murphy in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition.