The Daily Spin – DraftKings Daily Fantasy Golf Preview – RBC Heritage

Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 11, 2018 05:26

Welcome to the club, Patrick Reed! After an inspired performance over the weekend at Augusta, Patrick Reed managed to hang on in spite of a fierce charge down the stretch from Jordan Spieth and then Rickie Fowler. It was a moment that many loved and others lamented. After a wild past that got Reed kicked off the Georgia golf team and led him to nearby Augusta St, this moment must seem even sweeter for him despite the many personal issues he has dealt with over the years. Reed shook off the bad guy image back in 2016 for many fans in leading team USA to a massive victory over the Europeans at Hazeltine, but Sunday truly marked his ascendance to the elite class that had seemed just out of reach for him in his early years. He nearly broke through last summer at the PGA Championship, but this was his first real successful start at Augusta in five tries. Although it seemed like all of the pressure would be on his shoulders entering the final round with a three shot lead over Rory McIlroy, it was Rory who could not hold up under the pressure of the moment in attempting to clinch a Grand Slam to join an even more elite group of men.

The final day seemed to turn on the second hole as Rory hit a gorgeous approach shot to within a few feet for an eagle putt that would have tied him for the lead after Reed had lost a shot on the previous hole. Unfortunately, for Rory, as has been the case all too often this season, his putter proved to be atrocious again and once Reed birdied the 3rd hole and gained the momentum back, all Rory could do the rest of the round was hold on as he never made a serious run of any type on the back nine. Meanwhile, I nearly made myself look foolish after my column on Saturday night projecting that anyone who was not at least -7 going into the final round was out of contention. Jordan Spieth played some incredible golf on Sunday, just the opposite of what we have seen the last two years and had the opportunities at his fingertips to send the tournament to a playoff. He will forever look back at two putts, the first, an eagle opportunity on 13 and then on the last hole where he nearly was able to make a miracle up and down after a tee shot hit the trees and did not even make it to the fairway. Rickie Fowler played out of his mind as well towards the end, sinking putts and hanging around and even nailing a birdie on the difficult 18th hole to send a roar through the crowd and also back to Reed moving towards the tee box on 18.

I told a lot of folks last week that the 2018 Masters was the most anticipated golf tournament of our lifetime and the way it played out, it surely did not disappoint. Though Tiger struggled in the second round and never really made a meaningful charge, his presence alone, along with him being healthy and in good spirits seemed to lift his competitors to a new level. Phil Mickelson likewise faltered in the second round in classic Phil fashion, turning one bad shot into a nightmare on the 9th hole which led to round he could not recover from. And yet, by Sunday, we had the leaderboard of our dreams with more big names near the top than I could ever remember. Reed and Rory were a dream pairing on Sunday in a Ryder Cup rematch from 2016. Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm were just behind them in what could be a preview for a future international match as well. As if that was not enough, behind them were Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Everything lined up perfect for a remarkable Sunday afternoon filled with drama and excitement. It was a tournament that none of us will soon forget.

In terms of DFS action, it was a bit of a mixed bag on the GPP side for me last week. In a move that I wrote about as pure game theory, I elected to go in big on DJ last week who I thought would be owned by about half as many people as Spieth based upon his price, history and hype during the week. I was pleased when I looked at the ownership numbers Thursday morning to see that DJ was in fact only owned by 11.5% of the field for the Millionaire Maker. Getting a player of DJ’s considerable talents at that level of ownership can either lead to big things or it can backfire. After the first round on Thursday, I was cursing myself out for not just picking Spieth and going with it. By Sunday, it looked like a wash as neither player had done poorly, but it also appeared that neither had a chance to contend. By Sunday night, Spieth had finished 3rd and DJ 10th so I was back to being a little frustrated, but not overly upset with my play. Perhaps Augusta is just a course where the chalk generally hits and I should save my contrarian plays for the other majors. The winning roster for the Millionaire Maker contained three of the same players as back in 2015 with Spieth, Henley and our old friend Charley being represented at the top. Charley pushed his way into the mix with a late hole in one on Sunday on the 16th hole, celebrating as I have never seen him before even when he won a tournament. It is nice that DK lowered the extra points for the hole in one, but it is a little disheartening that the 16th hole has decided the Millionaire Maker here the last two years on what is essentially a lucky play.

Cash games ended up mixed for me as I put together just two teams for the week with the first one hitting quite easily (Rose, Casey, Folwer, Kuchar, Stenson, Poulter) while my second (Rose, Casey, Garcia, Kuchar, Scott, Poulter) flamed out miserably and was dead by Thursday afternoon thanks in part to a Sergio 13 on the 15th hole, one of the craziest things you will ever see in a golf tournament. What was remarkable was that he made a tough putt to save it from becoming a 14. It was the perfect illustration of how crazy the greens can play as they are shaved down along the edges to cause just the type of roll off that took Sergio into the water four straight times. You will never see movement on the greens like that on any other course and the way that they place the pins there is so diabolical as it induces those types of shots again and again. Unfortunately, for Sergio, that ended his tournament and any chance of making the cut. When that happens in cash games, I have no words for you, but to just move on and shrug it off. It was a freak occurrence and if they lined up there to play again this week, Sergio would again be a cash play.

Another interesting development took place last week that DraftKings kept under wraps all week long. We had heard that single day contests were on the way, but when the Friday afternoon weekend slate did not post, we began to get suspicious. After tweeting a message to DraftKings to ask if the full weekend slate was going to be available, we were disappointed to learn that for whatever reason, DK had chosen to end those contests in favor of the single day contests. We were disappointed to say the least. Given that DK runs about 10 different sized slates for NFL games every week, I am still uncertain as to why the regular weekend contests had to go. While projected results for two days was never easy, I felt like we had developed a fairly sound system that gave us an edge going into the contests each week. Obviously, a lot can happen in two rounds, but it seemed like the FGI team had a lot of big results in weekend only GPP contests over the last year. Given how few other sites chose to cover weekend golf the way we did, we felt good about being able to continue forward with a small advantage over the field as a whole.

What you have to understand about any DFS, and what I think a couple of folks let go right over their little heads on Twitter is that the more random the outcome for any event, the closer it gets to becoming a game of chance. In other words, if we had a perfect model and were playing against a crowd who were picking with anything but our model, it would be 100% a game of skill and we would want to play as often as possible to exploit that edge. If on the other hand, there was absolutely no model that could project the outcome for a contested event, then we would have a game of chance, essentially like roulette, where it could never be looked at as a profitable endeavor to pursue for anyone. It is not that much different than a DFS contest. We pay a cost for every contest that we enter each week. If you play up high enough, it may drop down as low as 6% ($5,300 Thunderdome) or be as high as 15-18% in other contests. If ever the time arrives where the rake ends up higher than whatever edge we have in a contest, then the game becomes unprofitable. It is as simple as that.

Think of it in terms of cash games. When I am playing cash games each week, throughout the season, I can expect to win between 60-65% of the time. Your average $25 double up contest has about a 13% rake. What this means is that in order to be profitable over time, I need to be winning over 56.5% of the time in order to be a profitable DFS cash game player. Right away, you should notice that the margin is already thin. You do not have a lot of wiggle room before you find yourself on the losing end over time. If your predictive abilities diminish by even a small amount, say 10%, and the game in question is now unprofitable. Yes, you may still be better at predicting the outcome than your opponents and be winning more often than you lose, but that still does not mean that the game is profitable. You always have to factor in the cost of playing which is not insubstantial.

So let’s go back to golf. Over four rounds, if you look back at the model, it is generally a reasonably good starting point for weaving your way through an entire event. It’s incredibly rare for me to look at the leaderboard on Day 1 each week and think, wow, the model really nailed it this week. No, typically, you see a pretty wide array of names based upon player rank and more than a few names that you never expected. Over the four rounds, it gradually starts to even out and usually by Sunday on most weeks, it starts to make sense. Even Augusta this past week had incredible movement over the four days. While a model can be predictive in a single round, it is never going to be as strong as one that has four full rounds. It would be like playing quarterly NFL or NBA contests where over four quarters, a good model becomes more accurate as more minutes/periods/quarters/rounds are played. My thought with single round PGA is that the outcome is now random enough in most cases so that it just is not going to be profitable to play….most of the time.

In some instances during the season, there will be opportunities to capitalize on single round play. One of the toughest parts of projecting four rounds of play in a model is that the weather can change day to day which can sometimes throw your numbers off. With single day contests, you are going to know the weather for the day right when players tee off. It is not rare to see big shifts in the wind during golf tournaments. Often times, you’ll see heavy winds in the afternoon or morning for a couple of days and it generally evens out as all players take their turn golfing in both the morning and afternoon. However, for single day events, weather becomes everything. It is not unusual to see one wave score a stroke better than the other or even more in extreme cases. Look to target single day events when the weather is a factor and picking players on one side or the other will make all the difference. I am sure that there will be a few pros that pick up on this, but largely, those guys are playing every day all the time so it very well could slip past them as they mindlessly enter their lineups (this happens….one pro this past week entered the same lineup 150 times in the Millionaire Maker after forgetting to change his dummy lineup, which was filled in with six random players from near the bottom).

Outside of having a specific reason like weather to go off of, there are not going to be a lot of weeks where single round is going to be terribly profitable. The scoring system for Friday and Saturday is an amped up version of normal weekend golf with heavy emphasis on those who can score birdies or eagles. Sundays are an animal of its own with position points being awarded for the Top-50 golfers. Last week, there was enough distance between Reed and others to make it tough not to favor those right at the top of the board, but in future events, where 10-15 players are in contention on Sunday, this could make things interesting. For now, I would caution that you tread lightly in these new single day contests and if you are going to play, make it for only a small portion of your bankroll each week and money that you are not looking at as seriously as you do for full events. If your teams are down, a single day event on a Sunday may add a rooting interest that you were missing, but do not use these contests to chase losses. If I am wrong and the chuckleheads I was arguing with are right in that somehow, against all reason, we have the same edge in one day contests as four, I will own up and sing its praises, but until then, be careful about putting a lot of money on the line for contests that are certainly more random than most four day events.

Since I have already carried on too long here about the new contests, I am going to get straight into things with the RBC Heritage this week. It’s a wonderful event, held at Harbour Town Golf Course on Hilton Head in South Carolina and it follows the Masters every year. It’s the one event where I do not feel the full hangover coming out of a major. Think of it like this; you go to Vegas with all of your best friends, send it hard all weekend and then, rather than returning home right away, you head down to San Diego for a few days to relax before heading home…a decompression of sorts. The RBC Heritage is a nice decompression event for us and it brings together a strong field on a challenging course that helps us to bridge the gap between The Masters and The Players Championship next month.

Speaking of The Players Championship, that event is held at TPC Sawgrass, designed by the great Pete Dye who just so happens to be the designer of Harbour Town. Harbour Town, unlike many of the monsters we see early in the season, is a much shorter course coming in at around 7,100 yards and playing as a Par 71. It has some of the narrowest fairways on tour and the smallest greens. You do not see a lot of bombers in the field this week as this is a course where players will largely have to club down and leave their driver in the bag. The tree lined fairways make staying out of trouble and setting yourself up for a good look on your approach shot essential. This is a course where mid range iron play is king and precision on the greens is of the utmost importance. One of the things that you tend to hear about certain players is that they are ‘Pete Dye Course Specialists’, which is useful to know, but the terminology is also important. Like Augusta, Pete Dye courses are filled with little surprises along the way that tend to catch the rookies off guard. Hitting a shot directly at the pin may put you off the green and into the bunker while aiming at an edge behind the pin may allow you to funnel the ball back down towards the hole. Think of it like some of the effects you would see on a mini golf course. The players who know these angles on every hole seem to do well every year not just on this course, but other iterations from Dye as well. This is a week where the Course History truthers usually get to have a field day with the data wonks who see no correlation. The big question to answer now is whether or not Luke Donald can come into the week worse than we have ever seen him and still put up a 2nd place finish. For more on the course, go check out The First Tee from Adam Daly. He always does a great job giving an in depth overview each week about the set up and things to look for so I will not rehash it any further here.

Key Stats

Strokes Gained Tee to Green: 25%
Strokes Gained Putting: 20%
Birdie or Better Percentage: 15%
Proximity: 10%
Scrambling: 10%
Par 4 Scoring: 10%
Driving Accuracy: 10%

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Zachary Turcotte
By Zachary Turcotte April 11, 2018 05:26

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