U.S. Open Predictions: Conservative/Aggressive Plays for Every Type of Bettor

min read
Scottie Scheffler pumps his fist after putting on the 16th green during the final round of the Memorial golf tournament, Sunday, June 9, 2024, in Dublin, Ohio.
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelGolf Jun 13, 2024, 10:57 AM
  • Making the case for Jordan Spieth as an outright winner.
  • Why Collin Morikawa and Max Homa are good top-5 options.
  • Sepp Straka may be worth a shot as a top-10 pick.
  • Alex Noren could be good value in the top-20 market.

PINEHURST, N.C. – If we want to understand how much the sport of professional golf has evolved from one generation to the next, we need only view a winner’s list at the U.S. Open, which is governed by the USGA, an organization which also lords over the game as a whole.

For decades, this was the major championship of the little guy. This was the tournament where Lee Janzen or Corey Pavin or Jim Furyk or Webb Simpson could plink tee shots down the fairways, aim for the fat part of the greens and two-putt par their way into the history books. It might not have been the most exciting golf, but exciting golf doesn’t win a U.S. Open title. Just ask Phil Mickelson.

And then, something happened.

It wasn’t all at once, of course, and maybe it was so gradual that we didn’t even see it coming.

At the highest level, players were becoming so proficient with every club in the bag that the USGA had to play some defense. Maybe this was an effort to protect par as an acceptable score. Or maybe it was a last-ditch recourse against the organization’s own failure to roll back the golf ball and other equipment, as it was now pigeonholed into making the tournament tougher just for the hell of it.

It can be considered a bit of a mixed message, as former president Sandy Tatum once famously said, “Our objective is not to humiliate the best players in the world. It’s to identify them.”

The end result is that host venues started getting longer, fairways started getting narrower and green speeds started getting faster. That might’ve helped identify the best players, but it soon became clear that the best are also those who hit it the longest and highest, negating those course alterations and changing the way we identify U.S. Open champions.

Over the past decade, the names etched on the winner’s trophy include Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and Wyndham Clark, each one athletic and powerful, with sturdy enough forearms to mash it out of the rough when necessary.

If there’s reason for the game’s great crusaders, those who carry the proverbial pitchforks through the fiery gates of social media and message boards, to have reason for optimism this week, it’s that Pinehurst No. 2 might remain the outlier in a current U.S. Open rotation which has favored the mighty.

Whereas courses such as Erin Hills and LACC were overpowered to the tune of double-digit under-par winning totals, this week’s host should prove to be more discerning in its eventual list of contenders, with a hopeful eye toward old-school talents like ball-striking and creativity over an ability to bomb and gouge. 

In any other year, that might make a massive difference in our pre-tournament prognostications, as we weigh those aspects of the game with a greater degree of care. This isn’t any other year, however; this is the Year of Scottie Scheffler or very possibly the decade of Scottie Scheffler. Whatever the time frame might be, the answer to our wagers this week – well, the first answer, at least – is all too obvious.

U.S. Open Outright Picks

Conservative: Scottie Scheffler (+333)

A long, long time ago – like, five whole months ago – I jotted down my favorite plays at each weekly stop throughout the year, but with a special focus on the four major championships. This was back in the days when Scheffler was already No. 1 in the world, but wasn’t winning at a 38.4% clip like he’s done this year. 

Anyway, with a U.S. Open record that shows top-seven finishes in each of the last three years (and top-threes each of the last two years), his ball-striking prowess and his underrated short game, which similarly might be second to none, I ascertained that I liked him for this week’s event at Pinehurst more than anywhere else during the year. Of course, I wish I’d have bet him at the time. 

Scheffler’s outright price to defeat 155 other players this week is about the same as taking an NFL touchdown underdog to win on the money line or the Dallas Mavericks were to claim the NBA Finals after being down 1-0 in the series. All of which leads to the Scottie Scheffler Conundrum, which I’ve written about many times during the past few months. 

Essentially, you don’t really want to bet Scheffler outright at such a short number, but you also don’t want to bet anyone else, because they’re probably not going to beat him. It can be rightfully suggested that he’s taken much of the fun out of outright golf betting, turning the practice of buying a few lottery tickets into a fool’s errand, save for the occasional Stephan Jaeger or Davis Riley beating him. 

If nothing else, I’m hoping to use my contradicting powers for good rather than evil, in that picking Scheffler to win this week could be enough jinx to keep it from happening. Not that we wouldn’t love to see it, of course – even if we’re not playing him at this 3/1 number to start the week. 

For those who can’t stomach it, there are three options in this market: 1) Take a wait-and-see approach. Maybe he falters a little bit in the opening round; maybe he posts a score around even-par or worse. Unless that total is a big number, he’ll likely only drop a few points, but 5/1 at five shots back sounds a lot better than 3/1 to start; 2) Parlay it. Whether you pair him with a Stanley Cup winner or one side in a West Coast MLB game or something in the cricket/cycling/darts realm available at BetMGM, find another play you like to help juice those odds a little bit; and 3) Erase Scheffler from the conversation altogether, by only playing the “Without Scottie Scheffler” market. Take it from someone who had Collin Morikawa last week: This can be an extremely valuable decision.

Aggressive: Jordan Spieth (+6600)
Your reaction to the above boldface print likely explains what type of bettor you are. Some of you simply read the name Jordan Spieth and thought, “I’m not betting him; he’s been struggling with his game.” Others went straight to the number and surmised, “If I can get Spieth at 66/1 for a major, I’m doing it. Anyplace, anytime.” 

While it’s true that he’s been dealing with a lingering wrist injury and hasn’t been playing his best golf — he MC’d last week and owns just a single top-25 since the Super Bowl — there have also been signs that he’s ready to return to something along the lines of elite-level status. He’s gained speed off the tee and on a course that requires creativity around the greens, he’d rank near the top of any list. 

Remember: When we’re betting outrights, anything beyond first place is a losing ticket, so we’re playing the potential ceiling here, knowing the floor could bottom out. Considering the three-time major champion is priced the same as zero-time PGA Tour winners Cameron Young and Min Woo Lee, I like taking a chance that something about Pinehurst brings out the upside in him.

U.S. Open Top-5 Picks

Conservative: Collin Morikawa (+300)

In the prognostication business, we’re often forced to make deep data dives, delving through research to form a conclusion. Once in a while, though, the information gets handed to us on a silver platter. 

An example: Just a few months ago, Scheffler and Wyndham Clark finished 1-2 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, then replicated that result one week later at The Players Championship. Fresh off a solo second-place result at the Memorial Tournament, Morikawa could help pull off a similar back-to-back. 

My SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio colleague Will Haskett interviewed him after the final round at Muirfield Village and reported that he’d perhaps never seen a more excited, optimistic runner-up after a tournament. Morikawa knows he’s got something good going right now, with three straight top-fives, and it would be a surprise to see him outside of this range at a tournament where he’s been top-five in two of the past three years. I similarly like him (again) in the “Without Scottie Scheffler” market, as well.

Aggressive: Max Homa (+650)

Uh-oh, somebody learned how to play the majors. Alright, so Homa isn’t exactly the second coming of Brooks Koepka – not yet, anyway – but he’s now finished top-10 in two of the last three and threw in a not-disrespectable T-35 at last month’s PGA Championship. 

He’s admitted that his driver hasn’t been as much of a weapon as it’s been in recent years, but Homa’s high-level combination of iron play and wedge game around the greens has been very good. If you want to get really aggressive, I don’t miCond a Morikawa/Homa top-five parlay and if you really want to try and run the table, might as well throw Scheffler and/or Xander Schauffele in there, as well.

U.S. Open Top-10 Picks

Conservative: Sepp Straka (+600)

If you weren’t paying attention entering last week’s Memorial Tournament, you might’ve been caught a bit off-guard by Straka remaining in semi-contention throughout the weekend, eventually finishing in a share of fifth place, six shots behind Scheffler. That’s now three top-fives and four top-10s in his last five starts, as he’s rocketed up to 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking. This play makes a ton of sense, at least to those who have been paying attention. 

Aggressive: J.T. Poston (+1400)

Here’s the bad news: In 14 career major championship starts, Poston has never finished better than 30th place. Now the good news: He’s never been better positioned for his best result, having gone 22nd or better in three of his last five tournaments. Playing in his home state should have Poston motivated for a big week. Considering we often target him in Southeast-based events, he’s a guy who would be on our radar if this wasn’t a major, so here’s hoping his lack of major success doesn’t keep him from a solid week.

U.S. Open Top-20 Picks

Conservative: Cameron Smith (+150)

If you’re seeking the anti-Scheffler/Morikawa, a player who’s given us no indication that he’s about to perform admirably, look no further than Smith, who hopefully has a good excuse for his most recent round of competitive golf. 

In the final round of the LIV Houston event on Sunday, the Aussie posted four doubles and a triple — and perhaps the lone thing more shocking was that they “only” resulted in a score of 80. If we can chalk that up as an outlier, he still makes some sense as a pick to contend this week, with a pair of top-fives in his U.S. Open career, including last year, and a T-6 at the Masters just a few months ago. 

Smith’s poor driving accuracy is definitely a worry this week, but he’ll actually have more value the tougher these fairways are to find. Essentially, if everyone is missing ‘em, the better that’ll be for Smith, who’s proven to be an escape artist of the highest level.

Aggressive: Alex Noren (+350)

There are always going to be some surprises on a major championship leaderboard, but if you’d like a conservative approach to an aggressive play, so to speak, the proper strategy would be to chase those who have already played well throughout the year. 

That would include Noren, who’s been inside the top-25 in nine of his last 10 starts. Granted, three of those top-25s wouldn’t have cashed top-20 tickets, but he still owns tremendous value in this market, based on the cash percentage versus his implied probability. And as always, don’t be afraid to sprinkle him into the mix for a FRL play, too.

U.S. Open First-Round Leader Bets

Conservative: Brooks Koepka (+3300)

It has often been said that Koepka can turn on his game at the majors as if he’s flipping a light switch — and if that’s the case, the bulbs were at least flickering a bit on Sunday in the final round of the LIV event. Koepka moved up 25 spots on the leaderboard, posting a 7-under 65 and once again putting himself firmly on the radar entering a major. 

And this one should have a little special meaning to him, as Pinehurst was essentially the site of his coming-out party a decade ago. Nobody really contended for that title besides Martin Kaymer, who ran away with it, but Koepka finished T-4 that week, his first of what is now 18 career top-10s at majors – and counting.

Aggressive: Nick Dunlap (+12500)

There might be a sense that with so many qualifiers in this field – from the Korn Ferry Tour and the college ranks and other unknowns – it’s worth purchasing a few lottery tickets in this market. Recent history, however, suggests otherwise. 

The last five FRLs at the U.S. Open have all been known commodities: Rickie Fowler/Xander Schauffele (2023), Adam Hadwin (2022), Russell Henley/Louis Oosthuizen (2021), Justin Thomas (2020) and Justin Rose (2019). I won’t go too far down the board in selecting Dunlap, who became a USGA champion at last year’s U.S. Amateur, won the prestigious North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2 and is fresh off a 12th-place finish at the Memorial, during which his irons and putter were red-hot. 

I also like him for four-round investments in the top-20 and maybe even top-10 markets, but a FRL play could make a lot of sense for a guy who should know this course better than most.

The BetMGM online sportsbook is the premier destination for weekly PGA Tour odds and more golf betting opportunities throughout the season.

From futures odds for The Masters or U.S. Open to parlays and prop bets, there’s non-stop excitement for everyone. And with BetMGM promos for existing users, sometimes you can lock in a bigger potential payout with an Odds Boost or Multi-Sport Parlay Boost.

If you don’t have a sportsbook account, sign up for a new account with a sportsbook welcome offer.

BetMGM First Bet Offer $1,500
About the Author

Jason Sobel

Read More @JasonSobelGolf

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.

Jason Sobel is a Brand Ambassador for BetMGM. He joins after six years with Action Network. Prior to Action, Jason spent a total of 17 years in two stints at ESPN (1997-2011; 2015-18) and four years at Golf Channel (2011-15). He also currently works as a host for "Hitting the Green" on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio and contributes to the channel's on-site coverage during major championships. He's won four Sports Emmy awards, more than a dozen Golf Writers Association of America accolades and has earned an honorable mention in the Best of American Sportswriting series.