Why would anyone bet seriously on golf? It’s fun to have a little punt on the big tournaments — but you’d have to be a moron to put real money on such an unpredictable and frustrating game. Or would you? Last year, I heard friends talking in hushed tones about a brilliant golf tipster called Major Al. ‘He just doesn’t get it wrong,’ they whispered. I didn’t believe them — until I did some research, and was awestruck.
Al, it turns out, is a financial analyst and golf obsessive — who plays off three himself. He has been offering tips on golf’s four major tournaments for almost four years. Each time he lists between five and ten standout players and offers betting advice on them according to a points system. In 2012, his first big year as a tipster, he predicted Bubba Watson would win the Masters, which Bubba duly did, and two months later he picked second and fourth in the US Open.
Then the fun really started. Al chose seven major winners in a row. He tipped Ernie Els at 40-1 to win the British Open at Lytham St Annes. In the same tournament the next year he picked first, second, third and fifth. In the 2013 US PGA, he picked first, second and third. If you had started with £100 when Al started tipping and stopped after the British Open last year, you would have £1.2 million. Not bad.
Al admits he’s had plenty of luck, but he must be doing something right too. His method is to combine his skills as an analyst with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. He ‘screens’ players using a giant spreadsheet which takes into account all sorts of factors and variables.
Such techniques brings to mind Nate Silver, the American baseball geek turned psephologist who uses statistical analysis to divine the future in sport and politics — and who made his name by correctly predicting the result for 49 out of 50 states in the November 2008 US presidential election, missing only Indiana, which went the wrong way (for Barack Obama) by a singlepercentage point.
These days, however, Silver sounds a lot less convincing — indeed, more like a data-driven Mystic Meg — especially after his vague but nonetheless completely wrong prediction on the British general election.
Al, on the other hand, is cheerfully straight in his assessments. ‘I call my method screening analysis with a mood overlay,’ he says. ‘For example, last year Sergio García screened very well for Valhalla but he has said he hates the place so I left him out.’ He tells me he spends about 40 hours before each tournament, pulling together statistics from websites. He studies form closely and analyses each player’s strengths in relation to the course they are about to play, a factor he says bookmakers often misjudge. He usually chooses about five players who, according to his analysis, are likely to do well. Then he selects two or three generously priced outsiders who are well suited to the course in question and in good form.
He’s most proud of selecting Jim Furyk at 70-1 to win the US PGA at Oak Hill Country Club in 2013. ‘The course really favours players who drive with a right-hand draw,’ he says, meaning players who curve the ball left-to-right off the tee. ‘Furyk hits a right-hand draw and was playing well. I looked at the price and just thought: that’s ridiculous.’ Furyk, in the event, came second: Jason Dufner won at about 125-1. Al had picked Dufner too, of course, but it’s telling that he considers Furyk the shrewder — because more logical — tip.
Before the Masters in Augusta this year, Al decided to start charging for his tips — £50 a year for annual membership to his website. Sod’s law meant he duly had his first major major failure.
He decided not to back Jordan Spieth, the young American genius, because the odds seemed too low, but Spieth won the tournament with ease. Al’s other picks, with the exception of Dustin Johnson, failed to finish in the top five. If you had reinvested that £1.2 million, you would have lost 84 per cent. ‘Looking back that was so predictable, wasn’t it?’ he says philosophically.
Al now offers tips for eight tournaments a year and is optimistic about the forthcoming US and British Opens — at Chambers Bay in Washington State, and St Andrews, the home of golf. ‘They are courses which bring out particular strengths in certain players’ games,’ he says. ‘If my system works, it should work for those courses.’
Maybe his hot streak is over. But he’s well worth following. As he points out on his website — www.majoralspicks.com — if you had taken a more conservative approach with your £100 and reinvested just 50 per cent each time, you’d still have been £33,000 up after the Masters. Try getting that kind of return from your boring old tracker funds.