Golf Draft Kit: DFS Strategy & Tips

Golf Draft Kit: DFS Strategy & Tips

This article is part of our Golf Draft Kit series.

Daily Fantasy Sports is everywhere. DFS Golf is exploding. And it truly is daily now, with the option to break down four-day tournaments into weekends or even individual rounds.  Whether you play at DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo or any other site, there are basic tenets that cross all those platforms.

Before we get into Draft 101, it's important to know that we could see a bunch of weaker fields this fall season — even weaker than usual. If you're just getting into fantasy golf, it's not always like this. After the restart in June, the golfers, especially the top golfers, played way more than they normally would though the end of the season in September. The schedule was crammed. Yes, there is the Masters in November, but it's going to be vacation time for a lot of the big names. That won't affect the sites conduct business, it's just good information to have.

We're going to be try to be as basic as possible here. If you are an experienced DFS golf player, you probably know a lot of this stuff. You can start out playing for free or 25 cents or $1 or $3 all the way up to thousands of dollars. That said, here we go …

Back to School

As with all fantasy sports, let's start with doing your homework. Watch golf, read about golf. And learn the rules of the major fantasy sports sites. They're largely the same, but there are some nuances — and they price

Daily Fantasy Sports is everywhere. DFS Golf is exploding. And it truly is daily now, with the option to break down four-day tournaments into weekends or even individual rounds.  Whether you play at DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo or any other site, there are basic tenets that cross all those platforms.

Before we get into Draft 101, it's important to know that we could see a bunch of weaker fields this fall season — even weaker than usual. If you're just getting into fantasy golf, it's not always like this. After the restart in June, the golfers, especially the top golfers, played way more than they normally would though the end of the season in September. The schedule was crammed. Yes, there is the Masters in November, but it's going to be vacation time for a lot of the big names. That won't affect the sites conduct business, it's just good information to have.

We're going to be try to be as basic as possible here. If you are an experienced DFS golf player, you probably know a lot of this stuff. You can start out playing for free or 25 cents or $1 or $3 all the way up to thousands of dollars. That said, here we go …

Back to School

As with all fantasy sports, let's start with doing your homework. Watch golf, read about golf. And learn the rules of the major fantasy sports sites. They're largely the same, but there are some nuances — and they price the golfers differently.

A quick review of the basics: You pick six golfers who fit into a salary cap — let's say, $50,000 — and every golfer has a dollar value as determined by the fantasy sites. The top guys tend to cost in excess of $10,000; the worst guys about $6,000. Golfers get points based on how they score in the actual tournament. It's more like the Modified Stableford Scoring System than stroke play. You get points added or taken away depending on what your guys do. But whereas in real golf a birdie is just as good as a bogey is bad, it's not that way in daily play.

Birdies are worth more than bogeys are costly.  Same for eagles vs. double bogeys (or worse). Each of the DFS sites scores a bit differently, but the gist is the same: They all reward riskier play. A golfer who totals, say, eight birdies, three bogeys and seven pars will net you more points than five birdies, no bogeys and 13 pars. Both are 5-under, but the first one is better in the #DFS universe.

There are bonuses for players winning or finishing high on the leaderboard or for various streaks, such as consecutive birdies, bogey-free rounds, etc. Again, each site is slightly different.

Cash vs. GPP

There are two general types of games, cash and GPP (guaranteed prize pool, also known as "tournament").

The GPPs are the bigger games with the better players, fewer winners and … far bigger payouts. Cash games pay out more players but the winnings are far less. Those are generalities. Breaking down all the different types of games even further, here's a good place to look.

For beginners, cash games are clearly the way to go. There are three types of cash games, and we'll delve into them here: head to head, double up and 50-50.

Head to head is what the title says: you play against one other person for a certain dollar amount, and either they take your money or you take theirs, minus the "rake" for the site, which is akin to "the house," in Vegas parlance. If you each put in $1, the winner gets $1.80, and the rake for the site is 20 cents. You could play against a random person or a friend. If you and friend are learning together, this is a good way to dip your toe in the fantasy waters.

In 50-50, half the entrants win. Let's say there's a game with 10 players and everyone puts in $1. The top-5 players — no matter who finishes first and who finishes fifth — win $1.80. That's a total of $9 and the site gets $1 as the rake.

In Double Up, about 40 percent of the entrants win — and double their entry fee. Let's say there's a game with 23 players and everyone puts in $3. That's $69. The top-10 players win $6 each — doesn't matter if you finish first or 10th. That's a total of $60. The "house" — the site — gets the other $9 as the rake.

Those are the games, here is some strategy about how to play them.

The Golfers

The two things that we like to focus on more than anything else when picking a lineup are current form and course history.

If a guy is playing well heading into a tournament, great. If not, it's risky to assume he'll find his form just when you need him to. Sometimes, course history trumps current form, but in that case, it's got to be a heckuva course history. Rarely do guys continue to play courses they are terrible at unless it's a major or another big event (or the swag is too good to pass up).

Secondarily, each week when making the RotoWire/DraftKings Picks, we examine the course to see what stats will be critical to success. Does it favor longer hitters? Or is accurate iron play paramount? And what about scrambling and putting and so forth. Sometimes it seems you can never drill down far enough: Some guys play better on, say, Pete Dye-designed courses. Some do better on the West Coast Swing because certain grasses are native to that part of the country. You don't have to be an agronomist (but it wouldn't hurt).

Cut Sweats

And the second one hurts even more. Most of the time, if one of your six golfers misses the cut, it will wreck your chances (Hello, weekend and single-round play!). If a golfer gets to the weekend and blows up, it's still going to be better for you than if he didn't get there at all. And there's always the chance he can get hot. You might be able to withstand one MC in a small game, a cash game, but not a GPP with hundreds or thousands of players

Lineup Construction

There are two general types of lineups: stars and scrubs or balanced. That means if you pick a $10,000-$11,000 golfer, you'll need to fill out your lineup and stay within the salary cap by dipping into the $6,000s. In a balanced lineup, all six guys would be in the $7,000-$9,000 range. For cash games, balance is the way to go. In GPP, you'll want to anticipate golfers who are not highly owned to try to separate yourself from the masses. Of course, if you think a guy will do well or even win, going in a different direction just because you anticipate high ownership, well, that doesn't make much sense.

No matter whom you pick, think with your head and not your heart. Don't pick golfers you like because you like them as people, or because you went to the same college, or because you saw him in person hit a great shot when the PGA Tour came to town.

Hi, Hi Birdie

Birdie or better percentage. Birdie to bogey ratio. Bogey avoidance. These are stats the PGA Tour tracks. As we discussed earlier, not all 5-unders are created equally. Golfers who take more chances and get more birdies (and bogeys) are good for your lineup (though maybe not your blood pressure). For the most part, the best golfers on the course will be the best golfers in DFS scoring. But there are some small differences, and that's all it takes to win or lose your game. Take a look at those stats.

More Stats

There are many other stats to consider, and they differ depending on the course. But there is one kind of golfer who never goes out of style: the kind who can get from Point A to Point B in the shortest possible time: strokes gained: off the tee, strokes gained: approach. More times than not, that guy will be a solid pick. He may not be able to win because he can't putt, but he'll be around for the weekend and maybe a whole lot more. Every lineup needs good foot soldiers. 

That Cesspool We All Love Known as Twitter

Twitter is like a bunch of golf fans sitting around in a bar talking golf. Only there are a lot more of them (and they're all talking at once). Twitter is a great news source, and a great barometer. You learn about injuries and other important factors. And you might get a handle on ownership levels. There are sites that track/predict that sort of stuff. And, like RotoWire, many sites have experts making expert picks. Some are free; some are subscription-based. Also, follow the actual golfers on social media. You might get an injury tip or something similar.

Flavor of the Month

At various points during the season, we see a guy come out of nowhere to have a good week, or even a good few weeks. And Golf Twitter goes crazy. Chillax! Just like the best guys go through down periods, scrubs rise from the ashes every now and then. Most often, they will return from whence they came in short order. And these guys tend to do better in weaker fields, when so many stars are taking the week off. Often, the DFS sites will overreact and you'll see that reflected in their prices. It's a sucker play. Sure, one or two guys come out of nowhere every year. But that's few and far between. And there's a reason the Next Big Thing was on the Korn Ferry Tour last year.

Now we'll get into some more nuanced thinking, perhaps not needed for cash games but it couldn't hurt …

Even Odds Are Important

The odds for a golfer to win a tournament will usually mirror his DFS prices. But every week there are a number of prices that don't jibe, with a golfer looking way overpriced or an incredible bargain. How do you know that? You follow golf. Sometimes it's obvious. For a second opinion, check the odds at golfodds.com or elsewhere. Those oddsmakers are pretty smart dudes (not saying the DFS dudes aren't smart, too). Look for the discrepancies; you might be able to take advantage of them.

Chalk Talk

Ownership levels — knowing how often a certain golfer will be in lineups — could be used in cash games but is far more important in GPP contest. But again, this type of thinking could prepare you for the next level of DFS play. It is far from an exact science, and can be risky. Some experienced golf gamers can do it. You might want to fade a guy you think will do well because you think he will be highly owned. Try not to overthink things — don't double-cross yourself. But if all the evidence points to a guy being highly owned, and you can find a comparable player with less predicted ownership or even at a cheaper price, then steer clear of the chalk.

Showdown Games

Some of the sites break golf tournaments down to individual rounds, known as Showdown. The prices can swing wildly from what they initially were on Monday, and the strategy changes, too. It's still golf, but if you're asking someone to have only one good round, the chances he can do it are greater. It seems risk-taking would and should be rampant here. Take a flyer on, say, Denny McCarthy, and hope you nail his maybe one good round of the week. Another consideration: It's hard to follow up a great round with another great round. Maybe you can at Kapalua, where life is like one big 59-Watch, but most often no. With the narrow focal point of one round, even a tee time could be an important tool. Bad weather coming in? Grab a guy with an early start. There are so many variables.

Final Thought

We said it earlier, we'll say it again. The easiest thing is, if you pick the golfers who do well in real golf, they will be good in fantasy golf, too. Don't overthink things. Go with your gut. Don't double-cross yourself.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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