Some people would say I’m a professional gambler. I’d say that I’m a professional gamer — strategy games, specifically. I’ve played professional poker for a living since I was 19 years old, and I’ve only had a handful of losing months in my career. But this may not be surprising to you. Over the past several years, the ability for players like me to make consistent money playing a game that used to be considered gambling but now is widely (and rightly) considered a game of skill has become well-known.
Within the last year, I’ve gotten into a new game that reminds me of poker. It’s a game where skilled players can win big money and, more importantly, can win consistently. Furthermore, just like poker in the mid-2000s, its popularity is skyrocketing. In 2013, DraftKings’ biggest tournaments had mostly prize pools in the thousands. But in 2014, DraftKings was awarding $1 million for first place each week in a fantasy football tournament that was only $25 to enter. On a given weekend, they awarded over $10 million prizes.
Daily fantasy sports have hit extraordinary heights. Sadly, the football season has just come to a close, which means you’ll have to wait until next season to try daily fantasy football. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t experience DraftKings right now. As someone who loves golf, DraftKings’ PGA tournaments are a ton of fun and can be wildly profitable if you know the right strategy.
The rules are quite simple. Each player is assigned a dollar value based on varying statistics and previous performances. You are allocated $50,000 to spend on six players. Players have salaries that range from around $16,000 all the way down to about $3,000. The goal is for your six-player team to score as many fantasy points as possible (more on the scoring system later).
Lobby for DraftKings Farmers Insurance Open Tournament
The tournament is similar to a poker tournament. You pay a fee to enter, that money goes into the prize pool, and that prize pool is allocated to the top 10-to-20 percent of entrants. In the case of DraftKings’ $27 tournament this upcoming weekend, the top 20 percent of entrants will at least double their money, and $10,000 of the $65,000 prize pool will go to first place.
Scoring is explained in detail here. Make sure to look at that page, because the scoring system is designed in such a way that certain lineup building strategies are vastly superior to others.
There are three fundamental strategies that are the backbone to every lineup I create, and if you know these strategies, you will quickly learn how to create quality, profitable lineups that will give you a chance to win big every week.
Making the Cut and a Balanced Approach
Since players are awarded points for essentially participating (a player gets .5 points for every par), one thing about daily fantasy golf becomes immediately clear: in order to win, every player you draft needs to make the cut.
Players who make the cut will have the benefit of playing two more rounds, and they will at least double the score of players who fail to make it (unless a lucky 20 points for a double eagle occurs). Because of this, you don’t want to take risks on low salary players, unless you have a very good reason to (I’ll go into that later). If you do, it can ruin an otherwise great lineup.
This past week for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, I made a lineup that fortunately included Martin Laird (who is currently leading the event as I write this). But, the lineup also included two risky low-salary players, Michael Putnam and Cameron Tringale.
The chance of one of those players missing the cut was pretty significant, so while my Putnam pick (his salary was a bargain at $4,800) is doing quite well, Tringale missed the cut, which completely blew any chance I had at placing high. If I decided to only take a chance on Putnam, this lineup could have had a chance to win big. All I had to do was use a more balanced-salary approach by not spending big on a player like Rickie Fowler and simply upgrading Tringale.
In general, I recommend taking a balanced approach when constructing your lineup. Essentially, don’t spend big on the high salary guys like Rory McIlroy or Bubba Watson, because it will handcuff your salary, and you’ll be forced to take a risk on a player or two who may have only a small chance of making the cut.
Playing several mid-salary players (in the $6,500-$10,000 range) will increase the likelihood of all your guys making the cut tremendously.
Favor the Birdie and Eagle Chasers
One hidden but crucial factor of DraftKings scoring is how important birdies and eagles are. Since bogeys are only -.5 points and double bogeys -1 point, but birdies are +3 points with eagles +8, players who take risks and go for birdies and eagles at the risk of bogeying (think Keegan Bradley or Brooks Koepka who just won in Phoenix) are much better for your team than a player who doesn’t make many mistakes (think Zach Johnson).
This can be clearly illustrated with a little math. Let’s say two players shoot 2-under in the first round of a tournament. The first player does it with 8 birdies, 1 eagle, 3 bogeys, 4 pars, 1 double bogey and 1 triple bogey. The other player has 3 birdies, 1 bogey and 14 pars. Let’s compare the fantasy points of each player:
Player 1: (3*8)+(1*8)+(4*.5)+(3*(-.5)+(2*(-1))= 30.5 pts
Player 2: (3*3)+(-.5)+(14*.5) = 15.5 pts
Despite both players shooting the same score, Player 1 has almost double the score as Player 2.
That 15-point difference can go a long way in the end. The first and fifth place finishers will only be separated by a few points, but fifth will only win $1,000 while first wins $10,000.
An easy way to find the differences in players is to go to PGATour.com. They keep a statistic that tracks the percentage a player scores birdie or better per hole, which goes back several years (you can find this statistic here). Try to favor the players who rank highly. However, don’t go overboard, because there’s actually a very easy and accurate way to evaluate every golfer’s skill…
Let Sportsbooks Do the Work
I’m not an expert on evaluating golf. If you asked me what I thought Hideki Matsuyama’s chances of winning the Masters were, I’d have no idea. But luckily, I don’t have to know, because Las Vegas and online sportsbooks handicap these events for me.
My favorite online sportsbook to look at odds is called Bovada.lv (they’re a reputable international sportsbook), and every week they will have a list of players and their odds to win a given event. This information is much more accurate than anything you could read on ESPN, and you can use it to evaluate which salaries may be too high or too low.
For the Farmers Insurance Open this week, for example, Brian Stuard is 100/1 to win with a salary of $6,100. Sang-Moon Bae is also 100/1 to win, but has a $6,800 salary. By picking Stuard over Bae, we can save a small chunk of salary but get the same caliber of player.
Another example is Jimmy Walker, who’s tied at 12/1 with Jordan Spieth as the favorite to win, but Walker is $1,200 less than Spieth. Walker’s birdie or better percentage is also higher than Spieth’s, so we expect him to outscore Spieth on average as well.
Looking for these differences can be tedious, which is why on my strategy site dailyfantasywinners.com, we have a table that averages the odds of several different sportsbooks, then weighs them against the player’s price. This table makes it obvious which players are over-valued and under-valued. To find it, all you have to do is go to our homepage and look under the tools tab.
Let’s Make a Lineup
This is a lineup that I’ve made for DraftKings $65,000 Fairway Tournament that starts this Thursday. I decided to pay up a bit for Hideki Matsuyama, whose odds to win are much better than Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose at the same price point.
I also went with little known Seung-yul Noh, a player who has fantastic odds at his price-point (80-1 on Bovada.lv) and whose birdie or better percentage is a ridiculous 26.5 percent this year (the average is around 20 percent). All the picks in this lineup are a combination of finding players with both great odds at their price and a high birdie or better percentage. No player is worse than 80/1 to win the event, and all of the players are within the top 40 players in their odds to win.
This is the type of lineup you should be looking to construct if you decide to enter this tournament, and feel free to steal some of my picks.
You may have never heard of daily fantasy golf prior to reading this article, but by using the basic concepts and strategies I’ve laid out above along while doing a little more research on your own, I’m confident that you can become a profitable player in no time.