There’s little doubt that Golf was one of the biggest growth stories in Daily Fantasy Sports last year. Daily Fantasy Golf/PGA took the fantasy industry by storm in 2015 with huge weekly prize pools, a 600k live final hosted at an actual PGA Tournament, and 4 separate Millionaire Maker tournaments. Most of the success of daily fantasy golf can be attributed to its placement on one of the biggest sites in the industry—DraftKings—but many smaller sites began offering it as well last season, and its popularity spread like wildfire.
With the regular PGA tour schedule about to commence for 2016 I think you can expect more of the same growth and a lot more of the big prize pools we saw last year. With that in mind, I thought I’d compile a preview of some important trends, players and analysis for fantasy purposes that you can take with you as this season unfolds this year.
The PGA Season
For new and old players alike a quick refresher as to how the PGA season is generally scheduled is a good place to start. PGA tournaments start off on the West coast and visit numerous traditional venues that many veteran players will be familiar with. Pebble Beach, Riveria and Torrey Pines are all courses that are included at various stops on this portion of the season. Players like Jimmy Walker, Charles Howell III and Phil Mickelson have enjoyed tremendous success on this swing of courses that often have many of the same course features, such as poa annua greens.
Near the end of February, the tour leaves the West coast to head East for a full Florida visit. There’s numerous big stops in this portion of the year and it also includes the first World Golf Championship event of the year. WGC’s are generally very elite fields which feature 70-75 of the best players in the world and feature no Friday cut making them unique for daily fantasy golf purposes. After Florida, a brief Texas stop precedes the first Major of the year, The Masters. Being the first major this tournament is usually subject to unreal hype even though its field is arguably the weakest of any of the four major championships, as it includes a plethora of past winners (who are well past their prime).
With the Masters being played at the same course every year (Augusta National) it offers a unique opportunity for fantasy golf, as the players will often have lengthy course histories at Augusta that DFS players can draw from for data. There are numerous trends that a DFS player will likely want to pay attention to that week, such as the success of first time players there and what sorts of history past champions had at the event before winning. While most sites will likely offer larger sized GPPs that week, expect DraftKings to again set the standard. Last year they hosted the first ever Fantasy golf millionaire event, with a prize pool well over 2 million dollars, and it sold out well before tee off.
After the Masters the season really takes off and the US Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship (the years last three majors) all occur within a short time period (mid June to late July). This year the Olympics mean the schedule for “major season” will be even more condensed than usual with the last three majors taking place within a month and a half from each other. After major season however there is still a ton of golf left with the regular season continuing on until the end of August and the PGA playoffs going until the end of September.
The Major Players
Last season we saw the rise of the big three. Many fantasy fans already knew about the talent Rory McIlroy had and his ability to decimate a golf tournament but last season we learned that Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are just as talented. For fantasy purposes choosing which one of these studs to roster at major championships and other big tournaments will often be key for a successful week. While Day and Spieth both won majors last year and had periods of pure domination, McIlroy is now the one most fantasy players may choose to avoid this year, at least early on, as his end of season returns were poor in 2015. It might be worthwhile to keep an eye on the European tour golf news early in the year to see how Rory starts his season as he could be a great sleeper pick at Augusta.
The Second Tier
Behind this big three lie a huge group of uber-talented golfers who will be tempting DFS players all season. Players like Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, and Justin Rose are all going to be trying to knock the aforementioned big three from their perch at the big events, and even though these players mostly failed at that endeavor last year, don’t be shocked to see one or two of the players from this tier break through for some big wins. Fowler and Zach Johnson both had huge wins last season and even though the players from this group aren’t as consistent as the big three, they offer huge potential for DFS every week.
Players to key on from this group for 2016: Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka
The Rest of the Best
Since not every week is a major, certain tournaments will simply field weaker fields than others. These regular field events are when it will be very important to familiarize yourself with some of the non-superstar but still very elite players. Players like Matt Kuchar, Kevin Na and Chris Kirk are all just some names of tour players who have multiple wins on tour already but don’t have quite the same firepower as the truly upper echelon tier of players. Still, knowing when to trot out or “pay up” for these types of above average talents will be crucial in some of the less superstars events. There’s a lot of names from this group to keep on eye heading forward as many will be hoping to rebound in 2016, or build on success from last season.
Players to key on from this group in 2016: Danny Lee, Russell Knox, Kevin Kisner, Graeme McDowell
Every year a new crop of talent comes onto the tour and this season will be no different. Young up and comers fresh off qualification or requalification for the tour will be trying to make their mark in several events this season. The Web.com (the feeder tour) is where many of these players have been honing their craft and while these new players may not be household names they all have competitive experience and will be ready to compete from the get go. For fantasy purposes familiarizing yourself with these newbies will be important as they can often represent the best value early in the year. Last season both Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger were two of the most consistent golfers early in the season and were often under-priced. This year, looking for the next incarnation of those two former rookies will be key for DFS.
Players to key on from this group in 2016: Smylie Kaufman, Peter Malnati, Harold Varner III, Jamie Lovemark
This group contains players who might be coming back from injury, players who spend a lot of their time in Europe, or players who just simply might be off the radar altogether right now. There’s so much talent out there on tour that sometimes it’s easy to discount people who haven’t been playing in regular tour events every week. Fortunes can change quickly in golf though and so it’s important to note who might be recovering from injury or playing well on a different tour. For major events, European and International players need to always be researched for DFS purposes as they can an overwhelming source of fantasy goodness. Last year Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace were massive forces in the major championships and both were vastly under owned at the US Open where they each landed a top 5 finish. Don’t limit your scope to those who do well every week, and make sure to consider all the talent out there before setting your rosters every week.
Players to key on from this group in 2016: Louis Oosthuizen, Graham DeLaet, Steve Stricker, Shane Lowry