Pro Golfers Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, and Jason Kokrak

  • Several professional golfers went on record this week to show their support for sports betting, citing its role in growing the popularity of golf among a wider audience.
  • PGA Tour viewership is seeing its best ratings in several years as legalized sports betting industries continue to be introduced to more states.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – With legalized sports betting industries springing up throughout the nation after the overturning of PASPA in 2018, sports betting has become more and more normalized. Each major American sports league – including the PGA Tour – have agreements in place for featured gaming partnerships with major sports betting operators.

Not every professional golfer has been on board with that, however.

In a 2019 Golf Channel podcast interview, one of the biggest names in golf – Rory McIlroy – lamented the possibility of sports betting affecting fans’ behaviors, and therefore affecting golfers’ performances.

“What is going to happen is you will see more of this [heckling] stuff occurring because there are going to be those who have bet against you, and the guy you are playing with. They’re going to want to try and alter the result because they will potentially either make or lose money from it.” he said on the 2019 podcast.

While this is a genuine concern for fans and players of the gentleman’s game, other professional golfers see it differently. Jason Kokrak, one of the top players on the tour, spoke with Sports Illustrated about what he views as positive changes to the game arising from sports betting.

“I think that (golf betting) is driving a different market and I think you’ll see a different group of people coming out to the golf course to either cheer or not cheer or root against people, so it’s interesting,” said Kokrak. “I think you’ll see more and more of that going on as more states open up and allow online betting or whatever. It’s going to be interesting going down this road, but I think it’s good for golf.”

At least one other big-name professional golfer agrees with Kokrak about the positive impact of sports betting on the golf world: two-time Major winner Dustin Johnson.

“Obviously, I don’t really follow golf betting, but other sports, maybe,” Johnson said. “Obviously, I think it’s good for the game, just because it brings a lot more people who are going to be interested in it. I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Kokrak and Johnson may be on to something. NBC reported that golf viewership is up in a big way in 2021: PGA Tour viewership is up 24% compared to 2020, with 26 different tournaments seeing 10% viewership increases or more from last year. This is likely no coincidence, as the American Gaming Association expects 2021 to be the most lucrative sports betting year yet.

If the PGA Tour continues to see viewership increase as legal sports betting spreads to even more states nationwide, the connection will be that much more undeniable; and with the PGA Tour seeing its best ratings in years, it may already be too late for McIlroy’s view to be a hole in one amongst his peers.

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