The last time we saw competitive golf was on March 12th, more than two months ago. After what will be a 13-week hiatus, the PGA Tour plans to resume play at the Charles Schwab Challenge for what should be the deepest field the tournament has seen in its history. Even though we’ll be getting golf back, it’ll look much different from what we’re used to and feel very different for the professionals who’ll have to adjust to the new rules.
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The PGA Tour has released a 37-page document with all the protocols for Tournament play, which include social distancing rules, testing, etc. The degree that this virus will affect other leagues and athletes is still unknown, but the PGA Tour will be one of the first professional sports to resume, and it starts with making sure everyone on the grounds is healthy.
Undoubtedly, this will bring an added element to how players conduct their practice, and ultimately, their play. For the most part, players are focused on the “next shot” and rarely about their safety. In a recent Golf Channel interview, Kevin Na, the 2019 Charles Schwab Challenge winner, mentioned he thinks it will affect play in some way, saying, “you start thinking about other things than golf.” He goes on talking about testing and how players need to make adjustments, which he believes is going to take some time. The severity of how the testing implementation impacts play is still unclear, but it will be different than any other golf tournament the pros have played in on any level.
Players will also not be able to “feed” off the energy of the crowd. Having no fans shouldn’t affect their play too much, nor would any Tour pro admit they played poorly because the fans weren’t in attendance. Still, players like Phil Mickelson, who has one of the more prominent personalities on the PGA Tour, may not get the same boost of energy as he would when he has hundreds of thousands of fans coming through those gates every day.
It’s not only the pros who’ll need to make adjustments, but we’ll also need to approach things differently or focus on some key statistics more so than usual. Here are a few strategies we should be focusing on at the Charles Schwab Challenge and moving forward until we see the play (and our lives) have some semblance of normalcy.
Game Theory Is Most Important
We should use this strategy in every tournament, but more so now and weigh it heavier in our methodology over the next few weeks. Charles Schwab went from a 122-player field to more than 150, and we should see the same type of increase in future tournaments. More golfers means more to chose from and mathematically a more extensive range of potential outcomes and subsequent winners.
More golfers in the field also equate to more players missing the cut. We should see an influx of casual players building DraftKings lineups with the PGA Tour being one of the first live professional sporting events we’ve had since March, along with the popularity of “The Match II.” The concentration of ownership for notable or familiar players like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka, for instance, might be positions to fade or pivot off of and go with someone like Justin Thomas, Sungjae Im or Patrick Cantlay at a lower price or lower ownership. It also works well if the popular player(s) miss the cut and you didn’t roster them.
The same strategy applies when there’s an increase of notable golfers in the field, and ownership is dispersed among good players with similar salaries where you don’t have to fade them based on their ownership number necessarily.
Team “Can Putt”
In most cases, rostering the ball strikers who have difficulty putting can reap success. For instance, over the last 50 rounds, Hideki Matsuyama ranks fourth in DraftKings points gained on the field, but 199th in Strokes Gained Putting. The same goes for Justin Thomas, who’s third in DraftKings Scoring, but 184th in putting. The logic behind this is pure ball strikers will, on more occasions than not, put themselves in better scoring positions, and have a couple of solid putting days resulting in more points. On the other hand, really good putters might have their best putting day(s), but not be in scoring opportunities. A good example is Matt Kuchar, who is 10th in Strokes Gained Putting, but 138th in DraftKings scoring over his last 50 rounds.
With an extended time away from competition, we might have to look closer at players who have historically been stable putters over time. One of the toughest parts of golf to regain after a long time off, especially in competition, is the short game. Weighing putting a little more over the next few tournaments may be the prudent play until we see how things play out as the regular season continues.
Narrative Street: Everyone is Playing Under the Same Conditions
This strategy isn’t a quantitative adjustment, but more dealing with player sentiment. We should always sift through prior transcripts and quotes from previous years to see if we can get an idea of how the course or tournament has played in years past. Over the next few weeks, we should also be listening to how the guys are handling the new situations they’ll be playing in. So much of golf, at every level, is routine, and it’s no different at the very top. We shouldn’t entirely be fading a player at a reasonable salary and ownership just because they’re out of their routine. Still, if individual players start to mention it’s going to take a while to get into the “new normal” on more than one occasion, it’s something to take into consideration. We should seldom believe athletes when they talk to the media (for the most part), but if there’s any information we can extract from what they’re saying and it could affect their play, we should listen and react.
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I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is reidtfowler) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.