Golf, Low Life,

Picking a winner is not always enough

Jeremy Chapman was smart enough to make a great punt on the 2012 Open – but then he set about undoing his fine work

Win some, lose some. And sometimes you lose some even when you win.

Let me give an example by telling you how I botched the biggest golf payout of my chequered betting career and why I may be a good judge but a rotten punter.

I am not a big player – more a tenner man – and my £40 each way on Ernie Els at 80/1 for the 2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham represented a firmly held opinion that, for once, the bookies had got it seriously wrong.

Admittedly the great South African was past his prime at 42 and had not won a major for ten years, but spurring him on was the fact that Darren Clarke had won the Open at the same age the previous year, as well as the belief that he should have won at Lytham 16 years earlier (when he tied for second behind Tom Lehman) and should have got closer than third to David Duval at the same course in 2001. He felt the Lancashire links owed him one.

So what happened? With an hour’s play to go, true to form, I cold-panicked. Adam Scott was four clear with four to play and looked certain to win. Equally, early finisher Els was firmly booked for second place coming down the 18th.

A guaranteed profit was wrapped up with the £800 place part of the bet. So, like the spineless bottler I was, I went on to Betfair and gradually offloaded £2,000 of my potential £3,200 win payout. And watched, half in horror, half in delight, as Els sank a long birdie putt at the 72nd hole and Scott bogeyed each of the last four holes.

It wasn’t even a play-off. Els had won, all those high rollers who ridiculed the headline on my Open preview had to eat humble pie – and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I’d won two grand – and lost two! ’Twas ever thus.

Great at working out winners, whether golfers, horses or boxers. Terrible at turning that talent into hard cash.

Part of the problem is that being right has always been more important to me than making money. That’s why, in my ninth decade and after tipping nigh on 900 golf winners, I’m still trying to earn an honest crust to fund my wife’s addiction to nicotine and obsession with backing slow, grey racehorses, instead of living a life of luxury with handmaidens pouring the Dom Pérignon and stroking my fevered brow.


A salutary experience turned me from fearless to cautious punter at an early age.

We’re going back to 1963 and I’m a know-it-all 21-year-old junior reporter on a weekly newspaper earning £12 a week who thinks he’s a boxing expert. Having watched the young Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) being dumped on the seat of his pants in round four by our heavyweight champion Henry Cooper, I was convinced he had absolutely no chance again the Baddest Man on the Planet when, in his next fight, he was rash enough to take on the sinister world champion Sonny Liston.

My local “turf accountant” had him at 7/1, so I rashly said to my sports editor: “You can have 100/1 with me.” Those six little words were to cost me two months’ wages. Thank goodness the boss only had a £1 bet and graciously gave me six months to pay!

This expensive lesson in recklessness also taught me not to believe all I read – Liston wasn’t so fearsome after all – or even all I saw.

Clay was getting a huge amount of publicity by predicting the round, but it had gone badly wrong against Doug Jones in New York when that opponent failed to fall in five but instead went the distance.

Next up, Clay’s people needed a hand-picked opponent he could stop when he said he would. Cooper, a noted bleeder with a long history of cut eyes, was that man.

Clay called it for round five, messed around for four, got carelessly caught by that famous left hook, got up quickly and within a minute of the fifth round starting had cut poor Henry to ribbons, forcing the referee to stop it. Job done, reputation restored.

Sometimes you have to hold your hand up. Yes, I’ve been a mug more than once, but hopefully never quite as daft as the Betfair punter who in 2003 lost his life savings laying the leader of the Madeira Open, Bradley Dredge, for every penny he could lay his hands on when the European Tour website’s leaderboard flashed up that the Welshman had taken 30 on the opening hole of his final round.

It transpired that someone had inadvertently pressed an extra button. Dredge had made a birdie three and went on to win by eight. But what pro would ever take 30 on one hole? As I said, never believe all you read!

Jeremy Chapman is a sportswriter and golf tipster

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