Rotoworld: Firstly Ben, well done on a successful year’s tipping. Tell us a bit about your profit/loss on sportinglife.com and how you allocate your points each week.
Thanks! It’s been a really good year despite the absence of really good Sundays – I’ve only put up five pre-tournament winners, two of which were Jordan Spieth. It’s the 25 places from 28/1 to 500/1 that have made the difference on 2016, which ended around +150pts compared to more than twice that this year.
In terms of points allocation and staking, it really does vary according to the shape of the market and perceived vulnerability (or otherwise) of the best players. Generally, 20/1 and upwards and I’ll be tipping each-way, especially now with such generous terms available, and the idea would be to ensure that if any one of the selections does hit the frame, the week is paid for. Given that I stake on average 10 points per week, that would mean 2pts each-way on a 20/1 shot or 1pt each-way on a 40/1 shot. Any bigger and I tend to stick to a full point unless it’s an extremely speculative selection at a silly price.
Rotoworld: How do you go about researching each event?
A lot of my research is unstructured and hard to quantify. I’ll spend time look through old leaderboards and stats, making mental and literal notes, checking scorecards, reviewing last week’s event, reading interview transcripts, jogging my memory when it comes to how a course played on a certain week and noting down anything abnormal, that sort of thing.
When that’s done, I’ll have a list of ideas I want to look a little closer at. For instance I might have noticed a potential course correlation, or realised that the event has been especially kind or unkind to the favourites. With everything I do I’m also looking for something to explain it, so I can be as confident as possible in the theory. Why might the better players always struggle here? Does it make sense that a set of players might go well at another course? If I can’t explain it, I try to cast it aside.
Finally, it’s to a full list of the field. I go through every player and I try to be ruthless, because I know that I’ll still wind up with a dozen or more that I want to go back to. At this point I’m generally looking for players who could be ready to play well, and then I’ll take this group back to the other filters I’ve established in the hope of finalising my selections.
I appreciate much of this sounds vague, but as you’ll know when you’ve been doing this for so long, largely looking at established events on familiar courses, it’s a fairly natural process. Every week it ends with me being very excited by the case for at least one player.
Rotoworld: What was your personal highlight from a tipping point of view?
Probably Charley Hoffman leading after round one of the Masters. It was a case so obvious that I’d actually tweeted it a few weeks earlier, half expecting that he’d be 50/1 and I’d have to let him go unbacked. He opened 100/1, I hastily wrote a preview, and the beautiful beast ended up leading by four, his birdie on 17 basically confirming that the job had been done. It felt like a lot of us were on and you always get more credit for winners in majors. As one of those annoying people in constant search of validation, that’s always nice.
Second would be Wade Ormsby winning the Hong Kong Open recently. For all that this has been a really great year, my biggest-priced outright winner had been 50/1 before Ormsby won and it was one of those weeks where, with Alex Bjork in the mix too, I felt fairly confident throughout that we were either on the winner or very, very close.
Rotoworld: How was your tipping in the majors?
The majors could not have gone better this year to be honest, which hasn’t always been the case.
I’d never have tipped Garcia pre-tournament for the Masters, but by Saturday night I’d come to the conclusion that he could well go on and win it and put him up in-play, making for a great event given what Hoffman had done on Thursday.
Spieth for The Open was an absolute no-brainer for me. I’d put him up at 10s for the Travelers on his previous start and couldn’t believe he was a drifting 16/1 shot on the Monday before Birkdale – it’s not often I think a player is completely the wrong price for a major, but I did here and it was great to see him underline exactly why. Unless he’s playing badly (reminder: he’d just won for the second time in 2017), he should not be 16/1 for any major.
Finally, probably the best Sunday of the year in terms of good breaks came in the US PGA, where I’d put up Justin Thomas at 50/1. He had been eased out to a huge price owing to some fairly modest form since a poor Sunday in the US Open, but he’d hit the ball really well at Firestone. There’s no better predictor for success, short- and long-term, than good ball-striking; I figured that Thomas would have a huge chance at a course we knew he liked if the putter warmed up, which can happen to virtually any player at any time.
Given that I was on holiday during the US Open and didn’t preview it, I have no complaints about the majors for once.
Rotoworld: Do you find it easier to find winners/value in big events (majors, WGCs) or in the lesser events?
Definitely the lesser events. That’s not to say there isn’t value around in the majors, but sometimes I find myself relaxing the rules a little bit. At the end of the day, people who read my major previews don’t want “I really like this player but can’t advise a bet at the odds”; they want someone to back, go home and watch contend, so what if he’s 66/1 and not 80/1. It doesn’t mean I’ll put up a player at what I feel is a bad price and I’m still desperately searching for value, but for instance I tipped Marc Leishman at 50s for The Open when hand on heart I probably would’ve crossed him off any other week once 66/1 had gone. Of course, it helps having enhanced place terms which always has to be factored in.
My favourite events, though, are the ones which level the playing field. That might mean a course where the younger, powerful players have to rein it in a little, or perhaps where the wind is going to blow. Take the Irish Open a couple of years ago when Soren Kjeldsen won as an example for both. He was in really good form and he loves links golf, but because of the strength of the field was available at almost 300/1 despite the fact that we know those conditions aren’t going to bring out the best in Rory, but will increase the chances of an upset.
It doesn’t always work out but your best chance of landing a huge touch is when the best players are in the field, but there are reasons to believe they won’t be able to show their best.
Rotoworld: You’ve also run your own One And Done League. Tell us a bit about that.
Yes, a venture I started with the entirely selfish ambition of winning a tidy sum of money. So far, it hasn’t happened and as I don’t charge for running it, I’ve basically done a few hundred hours’ worth of work for no return – financially speaking. Gladly I’ve come to know a few good sorts through it and it’s great value really at £25 for a year’s worth of entertainment.
Rotoworld: Is it a format you like or is it just easy to run?!
It’s become easy to run – that was not always the case but with the help of someone who knows how to make a spreadsheet sing, it probably only takes an hour a week now to keep it ticking over. It’s a bit of a pain when I go on holiday but people who play it understand that it’s a labour of love and I’ve only had one person complain in four or five years.
The format is different to punting and it’s another way of putting all the research to use. Betting value goes out the window and it becomes more about timing; finding the player who can be relied upon to perform but won’t perhaps be popular across the board, knowing who to save and who to spend. Clearly I’m still working on my methodology though as so far I’ve been a mid-table stalwart.
Rotoworld: What are your tactics for One and Done?
I’m currently in the process of updating them! Ultimately I try to find a player who will go well – I worry less about winning, whereas when I have a bet I tend to lean towards those I have faith in on Sundays. It’s important to plan, to try to predict schedules, to capitalise on streaky players while you can and to be different enough to really make strides when you are right, while knowing when to consolidate and go with the crowd.
Rotoworld: Do you play Draft Kings and other formats and how have you got on?
I do and it’s so far, so good – although I’m sure that will change. I don’t play regularly, I would say 30 games at the most so far, generally low entry fee, and I’ve been fortunate enough to win a decent prize. It came at last year’s Hong Kong Open when my team included Cabrera-Bello (2nd), Fleetwood (T3), Dodt (T3) and Lipsky (5th). I was new to it all at the time and must confess didn’t know there were points for end-of-tournament finishing position, which meant that about 15 minutes after the event ended I jumped up from sixth or seventh to first. I remember refreshing a few times that morning to make sure there hadn’t been some mistake.
These days I do have a growing number of US readers but my focus will remain betting over fantasy and while I’d like to think my articles are still useful, there are factors a fantasy player will consider that I just don’t have to.
Rotoworld: What are the main differences between betting and fantasy? And do you sometimes find it hard to get betting and odds out of your head when playing fantasy?
The chief difference for me is that with betting, everyone can win. They never do, but they can, and that’s why I like it. I get rewarded for the performances of my selections and it doesn’t matter if someone has backed the first, second and third – I’ll still win if I backed the first. I don’t like the idea of entering my fantasy team only to discover that a thousand other people have chosen the same line-up, or a very similar one.
I do enjoy fantasy though and find it easy to separate odds – in fact, it’s one of the main draws. Take Hong Kong last year. Dodt was the subject of a massive gamble in the UK which I missed, but I had no hesitation making him a key part of my fantasy teams – they allow me to select those players who were perhaps last of my shortlist. In other words I get to add more players to my personal leaderboard when play begins!
Rotoworld: You’ve had a great year and you’re also a new dad? Believe in the Nappy Factor then?!
Yes! I must confess, I doubted it during those early months, when our boy was waking up every two hours, but I suppose your average top-level sportsman lives a slightly different, dare I say easier life than we do.
I can’t claim that it’s had an impact on my tipping, because what I do for a living is basically insignificant, but I’m fairly sure it’s made me a better person. I therefore find it easy to draw a line from fatherhood to enhanced sporting success for professionals.
In golf, the margins are so fine, the probability of success so small, that removing the perception that nothing matters as much as the next shot can be the difference. When you have a kid, you realise that everything else matters less. For me that might be my job or even my own (awful) golf game; for a top-level sportsman, it might be the Masters or the Open.
One thing I will say is that getting over the bad beats or difficult Sundays is so much easier now. For example, watching Dubuisson in the Nedbank was the slowest of deaths; from the moment he laid up at the ninth on Sunday, I felt sure he’d finish second or third, and watching him lose his chance to win over the next few hours was painful – I do get emotionally invested, more than I perhaps should. Once upon a time I’d have sulked all day but now if I get to watch golf all morning, I have to make up for it all afternoon (rightly so), so they’re soon forgotten.
Rotoworld: You also seem to like the idea of players being inspired by countrymen, colleagues, friends etc. Are you fan of the mental factors which can affect performance?
100% and I find the main argument against really baffling. I put up Pablo Larrazabal in China after Sergio won the Masters – he came third at 45/1 and probably should’ve won to be honest. Anyway, I remember getting the odd comment along the lines of “well how come the rest of the Spanish players didn’t play well if they’re meant to be inspired by Garcia?” which completely misses the point. Nobody ever says current form doesn’t count because not all players in form played well, do they?
I would never argue that these factors can be the sole predictor of success, nor that there’s an exact way of measuring them, because there isn’t. But they absolutely can go in the pot with everything else, the facts and the conjecture, to make what becomes a compelling case to bet.
Maybe the best example from the year just gone is Thomas, actually. Here we have a player we all knew was capable of winning a major one day. We knew that he’d won some good tournaments already in 2017, and contended at the very highest level. We knew that Quail Hollow suited him, and were able to see positives in his display at Firestone. But another factor was this idea that seeing Spieth win The Open as he did, soon after JT had blown a chance to win the US Open, might ignite something. Less significant than his actual ability? Yes. Insignificant? No.
Most of the time we have to accept that we’ll never know precisely what factors influenced a performance even in retrospect, but this year’s majors have been fairly conclusive if you ask me. It was clear to everyone even before the Masters that Sergio had matured and was happier than before – we saw a little hint in Dubai, when he was as good as he’s ever been under pressure. Koepka said that spending time with DJ had helped with his mindset. Spieth, well, he’s just Spieth… but then you get to Thomas, another one of that Class of 2011. Success breeds success - we’re seeing it every year on the PGA Tour.
I find the more creative you get with these theories, the more some people line up to poke fun and doubtless I’ve speculated with some bad ones before, but if only bare facts counted we’d all be on the same players ever week, and we’d all lose in the long run. There are innumerable factors which combine to create the perfect storm and the more we can open our minds to beforehand, the better chance we have of predicting what’s about to happen.
Rotoworld: Which of the big names do you expect to excel in 2018?
I don’t see any obvious reason for a downturn from any of the best players in the world, to be honest, and the fact that Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose have ended 2017 in such impressive form really bodes well for the year ahead. Fowler is a player I retain faith in and there’s nobody better equipped to deal with these young upstarts than Rose, whose mind is among the strongest in sport, while Rahm’s ascent has been breathlessly exciting. He’s almost got to elite level too fast; it’s easy to just think of him as a world-class player, rather than one who was an amateur just last summer.
The two members of the world’s top 10 I’m most fascinated by are Rory and Hideki Matsuyama, largely because of the unknowns. McIlroy has been practising hard which suggests the rib is fully healed and it feels a long time since we’ve seen him in full flight; I can’t wait for that to happen again, which it absolutely will, because there’s nothing quite like it. Hopefully he’s back to his best by Augusta.
Matsuyama is becoming a conundrum. He’s still very young and his collection of titles is extremely impressive, as is his ability to peak for majors – he might’ve won two this year but for a bounce here or there. But his comments when thumped by Koepka in the Dunlop Phoenix, where he said he was not in the same league as the US Open champion, are a tad worrying. There’s no doubt he’s under immense pressure from back home to win his first major and I hope he does it soon, but he’ll need to dust himself down and remember what he’s capable of. Replaying Sunday at Firestone should do the trick.
A difficult question to which I could give you all kinds of answers, but I’m going to go with Martin Kaymer in Europe. He’s dropped down the world rankings fairly steadily since winning the US Open, but there have been signs over the last couple of months that he’s getting back to where he expects to be. Whenever a player has such a glaring weakness – in Kaymer’s case chipping and pitching – the temptation is to write them off quickly, but a more positive view is that if he can find something to work with, the rest of his game remains world-class.
I was interested to hear Kaymer talk about getting blades back in the bag towards the end of the season, which prompted immediate improvement, and there was an excitement about him which has been missing for a little while. The Ryder Cup is being played at a course where he’s won before and in terms of the Fleetwood comparison, he’s won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship three times so there’s no better place to start the year with a bang. He’ll be highly motivated and, like Fleetwood was back in January, raring to go having just started to find his game when 2017 came to an end.
In the US, on the assumption that Patrick Cantlay would be labelled too obvious, expect big things from Aaron Wise and Beau Hossler. The latter has already bagged some final-group experience having contended in Vegas, while Wise has taken everything in his stride in what’s still a young career and boasts the complete package. I’m not sure we should expect either to win the TOUR Championship – Schauffele has set the bar cruelly high for all the Web.com graduates – but I wouldn’t be surprised if either or indeed both won a decent event over the next 12 months. The CareerBuilder Challenge is an ideal early-season target for both men.
Rotoworld: Who wins the Ryder Cup?
I think the market now has it right, which wasn’t the case a few months ago. USA are now favourites but only by a hair and that’s logical to me: it acknowledges the fact that it’s 25 years since they have won in Europe and that maybe none of the line-up will have played in France before, but it also reflects their man-for-man superiority. I don’t buy into this idea that they’re going to dominate the Ryder Cup for years but I will be seriously impressed if Europe beat a side including Spieth, Thomas, DJ, Koepka and so on.
There are a couple of big positives for Europe, however. One is Rahm, who looks absolute made for the format and, don’t forget, made the final of the WGC-Match Play on his first try last spring. Another is Thomas Bjorn, who I expect to make a fabulous captain and a better one than Jim Furyk. What that’s worth only time will tell but for now I’ll go 15-13 to the USA. I hope I’m wrong.