Mar 21, 2018
Mar 21, 2018

How important is experience in golf majors?

Does experience matter at golf majors?

What makes golf majors different?

What is the hardest golf major to win?

How important is experience in golf majors?

The four major championships are the biggest events in the golfing calendar. The winners of these tournaments are notoriously hard to predict and many bettors believe past experience is crucial. How important is experience in golf majors? Read on to find out.

What are the golf majors?

The four major competitions in golf are the Masters Tournament, the US Open, The Open Championship (The Open or British Open) and the PGA Championship. Alongside the two biennial team competitions - the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup - these are the most prestigious and elite competitions in the sport.

The Masters Tournament (commonly known as The Masters or US Masters) is traditionally the first major event of the year. Usually starting in the first week of April, this tournament debuted in 1934 and is the only major to be played on the same course every year (Augusta National Golf Club).

The US Open, first held in 1895, is the second major of the year and takes place in mid-June. Course selection is a key feature of a US Open tournament - renowned for being difficult to play; longer courses with deeper rough are often preferred.

The Open Championship is the oldest of the four majors (established in 1873) and the only one to be held outside the United States - hosted by various courses in the UK. Played in mid-July, The Open Championship is known for links-style courses (coastal areas with uneven land and a lack of trees that result in high winds).

The PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association of America) Championship is the fourth and final major of the year in golf and usually takes place in mid-August. The PGA Championship was established in 1916 and has a slightly different qualification process compared to other majors (it is harder for amateurs to compete).

Does experience matter at golf majors?

Given that the major golf tournaments are considered to be harder to win than most other competitions in the sport, it is no surprise that bettors seem to place an emphasis on experience in previous majors when looking for value in the odds.

In order to analyse how important previous experience is in golf majors we can look at how many majors a player had competed in before winning their first major. Using a sample of data from all major events from 2000 onwards produces the following results:

Average number of major events to win a major

Major

Mean number of major events to win

Median number of major events to win

Masters Tournament

27.89

16

US Open

18.90

16

The Open Championship

26

24.5

PGA Championship

9.22

7

As can be seen from the table above, the four major events in golf do tend to require some previous experience at a major to win. Analysing how many total events players had competed in before winning a major would add more depth to this study in terms of general experience, but this more basic approach is still useful nonetheless.

The Masters Tournament appears to be easier than the US Open, both require a similar amount of previous experience - perhaps highlighting that it is the uniqueness of Augusta National that makes it so hard to win.

There are some outliers in this sample - most notably Ben Curtis who became the first player to win a major at the first attempt since Francis Ouimet in 1913 when he won the 2003 Open Championship, Keegan Bradley who repeated Curtis’ feat at the 2011 PGA Championship and, at the other end of the scale, Sergio Garcia who competed in 73 majors before winning the 2017 Masters.

Despite the wide range of data, the median figures for number of major events before winning a major will certainly be of interest to bettors. Although the mean average for the Masters Tournament and US Open are different, the median for both is 16 (indicating a fair amount of previous majors experience is required). 

The PGA Championship appears to be more suited to those with less experience (by far the lowest median average) and The Open Championship requires the most experience of all with a median of 24.5 major event before winning (perhaps highlighting how much players struggle with the varying weather conditions and nuances of links-style golf).

What makes golf majors different?

There are plenty of reasons why the majors are different to other golf tournaments; the level of competition, course set-up and added pressure that comes with playing in such a prestigious event are just a few examples.

Each major has slightly different qualification criteria - most of which are detailed below: 

How do you qualify for a golf major?

How do you qualify for a golf major?

Masters Tournament

US Open

The Open Championship

PGA Championship

Previous Masters Tournament Champion (lifetime)

Winner of the US Open in the last ten years

Past Open champions age 60 or under

Previous PGA Championship winners (lifetime)

Winner of one of the other three majors in the last five years

Winner of one of the other three majors in the last five years

Winner of one of the other three majors in the last five years

Winner of one of the other three majors in the last five years

Winner of The Players Championship in the last three years

Winner of The Players Championship in the last three years

Top 10 (including ties) from previous year's Open Championship

Winner of The Players Championship in the last three years

Gold medallist from previous Olympics

Winner of the US Senior Open from the previous year

Top 50 from Official World Golf Rankings (approx. four weeks prior to the start of the Open Championship)

Current Senior PGA Champion

US Amateur Champion from the previous year

Top 15 from previous year's US Open

Top 30 from previous year's Race to Dubai rankings

Top 15 from previous year's PGA Championship

British Amateur Champion from the previous year

Top 30 from the previous year's PGA Tour money list

Winner of the most recent The Amateur Championship

Top 20 from most recent PGA Professional National Championship

Current Asia-Pacific, Latin America and US-Mid Amateur Champions

All players who qualified for previous year's Tour Championship

Winner of the most recent US Amateur Championship

Top 70 players on current year's PGA Tour money list two weeks prior to PGA Championship

Top 12 from the previous year's Masters Tournament

Top 15 from previous year's European Tour money list

32 places allocated to Open Qualifying Series events

Members of most recent United States and European Ryder Cup teams

Top 4 from previous US Open

Top 10 players on current year's PGA Tour money list on given date before US Open

-

Winner of co-sponsored PGA Tour event since previous PGA Championship

Top 4 from previous Open Championship

Winner of two or more PGA Tour Events in the calendar year prior to the US Open

-

-

Top 4 from previous PGA Championship

Top 5 players on current year's European Tour money list on given date before US Open

-

-

Top 50 in Official World Golf Ranking from previous calendar year

Top 2 from previous year's Japan Tour money list (must be in top 75 in Official World Golf Ranking)

-

-

Top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking during the week prior to the start of the Masters Tournament

Top 2 from previous year's PGA of Australia money list (must be in top 75 in Official World Golf Ranking)

-

-

-

Top 50 players in current year's Official World Golf Ranking (approx. four weeks prior to the start of the US Open)

-

-

While the stringent qualification process means the level of competition is higher in majors than any other golf event, the courses also make things more difficult.

The PGA Championship appears to be more suited to those with less experience (by far the lowest median average) and The Open Championship requires the most experience of all.

All four of the majors in golf are considered to be harder to play than the average Tour competition. The US Open and The Open Championship are renowned for the level of difficulty and Augusta National (US Masters) is one of the most unique courses in the world. 

The basic criteria that will come under consideration when selecting a course for a major (and determining how difficult it is to play) are; course length, tee locations, fairway width, contours and undulations, rough length and density, green size and speed and potential hazards. In addition to this, the competition organisers will often change the pin position to make these courses even more challenging.

We can assess the level of difficulty for each major by looking at the average winning score (against the course par) and the average score to make the cut (made at the halfway point of the tournament to “cut” the number of competitors in the field roughly in half). The average winning score and cut for each of the four majors from 2000 can be seen below.

Which is the hardest major to win?

Major

Average winning score

Average cut score

Masters Tournament

-10.06

3.77

US Open

-4.11

6.33

The Open Championship

-9.94

3.27

PGA Championship

-10.89

3.44

It is interesting to note that one of the “easiest” of the four majors in terms of course difficulty is The Open Championship, the major that requires the most previous experience. While the Masters Tournament appears to be easier than the US Open, both require a similar amount of previous experience - perhaps highlighting that it is the uniqueness of Augusta National that makes it so hard to win.

Although experience at a major is important when it comes to betting on golf majors, it is merely one of many factors that should be taken into consideration. The course (and which style of play it suits), the weather and recent form also need to be analysed before bettors can make any informed decisions.

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