ORLANDO, Fla. – As Jason Day leaned back gingerly in a chair inside the Bay Hill locker room, the social media firestorm roared around him.
Day is a former champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and coming off a pair of top-5 finishes he was listed as one of the pre-tournament favorites at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, with his 14/1 odds behind only four other players in the 123-man field. But the Aussie laid low early in the week, eschewing practice Tuesday and opting out of Wednesday’s pro-am.
Then came his sudden withdrawal after completing just six holes, and with it an explanation that he had been nursing what could be a significant lower back ailment since Sunday.
Within minutes of Day’s withdrawal being posted, cries came from all corners of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) and gambling world: Where was this information about Day’s not-so-minor injury early in the week?
It’s a thin line these days between what goes on inside the ropes at PGA Tour events and what transpires outside betting windows in Las Vegas and elsewhere, one that will continue to become increasingly blurred as the Tour offers its overt support of larger gambling initiatives. In many other team sports, pertinent injury information like Day’s might have emerged in a team-issued report early in the week.
But could formal injury status soon seep into the world of professional golf? Opinions among players remain divided.
“It’s nobody’s business,” said Kevin Kisner, co-chairman of the Tour’s Player Advisory Council. “I mean, are we out here to gamble, or are we out here to play golf? I don’t really give a s*** about the DFS guys. You should have picked someone else. If he had shot 65 and he had a hurt back, those guys wouldn’t have said anything.”
Kisner’s blunt assessment likely reflects a majority of opinions on Tour. There are plenty of variables players must account for on a weekly basis just to keep their cards, let alone worry about the ones that impact gamblers who may never step foot on the course. But as sports gambling becomes more prevalent, the scrutiny surrounding player injury status will only increase.
“I’m not saying that anyone did anything malicious, but yeah, it’s a bigger deal,” said Jimmy Walker. “There might have been a head-to-head [matchup] with Jason today, and if a few people know that he’s probably not feeling good, people need to know that. It’s a big deal. There’s a lot of money out there.”
“You can certainly do well if you knew that stuff and other guys didn’t, that’s for sure,” added Brendan Steele. “Because with head-to-head matchups, if you know that a guy’s going to tee off and not finish, that’s quite good information to have.”
Professional golf is not the only sport currently adjusting to the world of legalized sports betting. Just this week Major League Baseball announced a new formalized process for teams to release starting lineups prior to games, with that information first going to the commissioner’s office and disseminated to oddsmakers so betting lines can be adjusted before the lineup information becomes public.
But the Tour is a far different animal than team sports, with its fairways and greens lined with independent contractors rather than players employed by a team owner. It’s a point of differentiation many players referenced, and one that even Walker admitted would make the execution of formal injury updates through the Tour problematic.
“Then it’s like, are you an employee of theirs? Are we getting compensated for that (information)?” Walker said. “I don’t know. That’s some hard stuff to kind of sit down and hash out. I think there’s going to be a wave of that coming, though.”
“If you’re going to start doing that, then you can probably list most of the guys out here,” said Brandt Snedeker. “Most everyone’s got some kind of injury that can flare up at any time. So I don’t see how you can honestly do that.”
In a statement to GolfChannel.com, a PGA Tour official explained that the Tour treats player medical information as confidential.
“Individual players may choose to disclose illness or injury at their discretion, as is often the case when a player withdraws during a tournament or mentions the status of a new or existing injury or illness in media comments,” the statement read. “We don’t have any additional comment as to hypothetical changes to the policy at this time.”
Kevin Streelman is a player director on the Tour’s policy board, and he admitted that the intersection of injury information and gambling gives him pause. But he wasn’t optimistic that a more structured injury policy will come to pass anytime soon.
“It’s a deeper issue,” Streelman said. “Off the top of my mind, I wouldn’t think too many guys are going to feel obliged to be forthcoming for Vegas. They’re worried about their health, their profession and supporting their family. So I get that side, but we’re all independent contractors here, too. We don’t have a union. We don’t have owners. We have our families.”
Part of the feedback surrounding Day’s withdrawal included questions of why he even tried to tee it up in the first place, having dealt with pain in recent days that made it difficult to walk or sit in a car and with The Players on deck. Day explained that he had hoped his injury would loosen up once the opening round began, but he received no such reprieve amid chilly temperatures Thursday morning.
His decision to risk it not only left bettors that wagered on him lighter in the wallet, but it also left first alternate Chase Wright without a tee time. Graeme McDowell shared that the issue of opening-round withdrawals actually came up at last week’s player meeting at the Honda Classic, with an eye on looking out for players who may find themselves on the cusp of making a given field each week.
“Just perhaps there being a maximum number of times that you’re able to do that in a season,” McDowell said. “Just to maybe persuade guys who are on the edge of maybe playing or not playing, that it’s maybe not a good thing to do.”
McDowell made it clear that those comments weren’t directed at Day, who at age 31 has battled various injuries across his career. But that sentiment did little to quell the outcry from individuals who saw their seemingly well-founded investment in the former world No. 1 backfire after just a handful of holes.
For Day, it’s an injury setback that could cost him a spot in the Tour’s flagship event next week. And in the eyes of many players, when it comes to the bettors his decision may have bankrupted, you might as well chalk it up to the rub of the green.
“That’s why they call it gambling,” Snedeker said. “You’re going to have to gamble sometimes. That’s part of it.”