DFS PGA Playbook: U.S. Open
This week, Dom Murtha and Steve Pimental fill in for Drew Phelps, as they break down this loaded U.S. Open field along with the unrelenting beast that is Shinnecock Hills Golf Course. Together, they've concocted what is sure to be yet another winning DFS Playbook from Fantasy Alarm.
Welcome to the Fantasy Alarm 2018 DFS PGA U.S. Open Playbook. Drew Phelps is out of the country this week, and as it turns out, it takes two people to replace him. Steve Pimental and Dom Murtha will tag team the U.S. Open coverage this week, offering two different perspectives to get you ready for the second major of the year.
Dom will be in attendance at Shinnecock Hills this week, so it is only natural that he would offer his insight into how the course will play as well as what to expect from the weather. Then Steve will present his take on the field, including some important statistics to consider. Next, they take on the most contentious fantasy debate of 2018: whether or not to play Tiger Woods. Finally, both Dom and Steve will offer up their Playbook plays of the week.
Since Dom will be a bit busy once the tournament actually starts, he will hand the weekend duties off to Steve. Steve will offer lineups on Friday night and Saturday night, but due to a scheduling conflict, it might be a bit later than what loyal FantasyAlarm readers may be accustomed too. Without further ado, let’s get right to it.
Course Breakdown: By NostraDomUs
– Southampton, NY (circa 1890) –
Out in the far reaches of Long Island, New York – one of the easternmost ends of the United States – laid a breezy lump of sandhills along the still infantile Long Island Rail Road, and upon the native land of the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Peaceful and relaxing, natural and unkempt, jutting out deep into the Atlantic Ocean, you could hardly imagine the relatively close proximity that this plot actually laid to the world’s largest metropolis. In short order, two entrepreneurs Edward Meade and Duncan Cryder – through the financial and political backing of William K. Vanderbilt of course – realized the potential in this paradise for a getaway golf club, accommodating leisurely city folk and high-class Long Islanders. With inspiration from Scottish course designer Willie Dunn, soon was born the nation’s first links-style golf course. Quickly rising to fame, the newly-established golf club – along with four others – became the founding members of the United States Golf Association. It can be argued that in a lot of ways, it was here, on these sandy shores, where golf in the United States blossomed into its modern form…
Again, here we are, at the same course, largely unchanged (save for the addition of length), well over a century later, and still playing the same silly game that frustrates millions of players every day.
This week, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club – as it was named in 1892 – will play host to the 118th U.S. Open, offering only the best of the best the opportunity for glory. Mixed in the field will be tour professionals from all over the world, accompanied by a blessed assortment of amateurs who earned their right for entry through a series of grueling qualifying tournaments. Together, these 156 golfers will take on a course that has stood the test of time, showing its teeth in each of the previous four U.S. Opens that it has hosted.
To get it out of the way – as this story has been beaten to death by now – the last time that Shinnecock hosted an event such as this was in 2004, the 104th U.S. Open, when it notoriously held all but two golfers from breaking par over four days. Retief Goosen eventually defeated Phil Mickelson by a margin of two strokes at an aggregate of four under par. Throughout the week, to say that firm and fast conditions were on display would be to say that John Daly enjoys a stiff drink every now and then – it’s true, but it may be the understatement of the century.
As time tends to exaggerate notable memories into folklore, I’ll do my best to curb the hyperbole… As best I can recall, the course played like linoleum flooring encrusted upon a bed of diamond. Rock hard conditions became so bad during the week that the grounds crew had to resort to watering fairways and greens in between the approach shots of each passing group. It was later reported and soon confirmed by Phil Mickelson himself that he in fact chose to aim at a greenside sand trap on one of the par 3’s because to hit any part of the green or fairway from such a distance would guarantee him bogey or worse. Course conditions that week got so unfair that Mickelson legitimately believed that landing and plugging into a sand trap gave him a better shot at par… And sure enough, in classic Phil fashion, he was right, as he got up and down to save par.
2004 was certainly a black eye on one of the nation’s most historic venues, so much so that Shinnecock Hills wouldn’t get its chance at redemption until 14 years later. Under the conditions that such a debacle would never happen again, it is this year that Shinnecock will have a shot to get it right…
With all of that being said, while I know that the course will not play nearly as rock hard as it did in 2004, by all accounts this year from those playing in the practice rounds, Shinnecock is in rare form. It will once again play firm and fast, but seemingly this time, more within reason. With no rain in the forecast during the tournament or leading up to the first tee shot on Thursday, there is no reason to believe that it will soften up much, if any, going forward.
Along with hard fairways and slick greens, is an extended golf course overall from 2004, as nearly 500 yards of length have been added. Officially, Shinnecock is set to play at 7,445 yards, with a 74.7 rating, and a 140 slope.
Much a point of interest leading up to this weekend has been the fairway width and conditions of the rough. In relation to 2004, where the average fairway was a measly 26 yards in width, this year golfers will have the benefit of over 41 yards of average fairway width, potentially giving bombers – even the erratic ones – an advantage over the rest of the field. To counteract that likelihood, added to the edges of the fairways is a nasty and natural fescue predicted to reach nearly five inches in depth, making it a colossal error to have your ball find its clutches. If the hope is to keep the integrity of a grueling course alive, then there is an advantage to widening the fairways; more original bunkers are now in play once again, with different angles available to approach from. Along with this, available are a wider array of pin locations due to the tighter mown, runoff areas around the greens. Often sloping down and away from the hole locations, these tightly mown areas add more risk-reward options for players to get back onto the putting surface.
Beyond the controllable course conditions, one of Shinnecock’s most defining and penal traits is its lack of trees and subsequently consistent windy gusts. Luckily for the field, unlike in other years, as it stands now, winds are not expected to exceed 20 mph at any point over the four days. Having said that though, winds are expected to be consistently over 10 mph and at times over 15 mph. With this being the case, golfers are going to have to do their homework on each tee box and fairway, as only two holes run in the same direction consecutively. Artificially changing the wind direction is just one of the many ways that Shinnecock has been able to remain such a consistently hard test for so many years. Rumors have it that those playing in the later tee slots on Thursday and the early tee slots on Friday may have an advantage, as winds are expected to be much calmer on Friday morning than in the afternoon, but with winds not expected to gust over 20 mph throughout the day nor under 10 mph, I’m not going to build my lineups around that narrative. As has been consistent for the last 120+ years at Shinnecock, wind is likely to play a factor on every shot, regardless of semantic weather reports.
What should be clear is that unlike other weeks on the PGA TOUR, anything under par will be a true accomplishment. While it won’t play as difficult as the notoriously dry and windy 2004 U.S. Open, the winner is sure to be tested in ways that he has never been by a course before. Based off of weather conditions this week and recent course renovations, players who are long and accurate off the tee, consistent iron players, confident scramblers from the rough, and nerveless putters will have the best shot...
Oh, did I just describe a flawless golfer? I’m sorry, but that’s exactly how the USGA wants it.
Welcome to Shinnecock Hills, the 118th U.S. Open.
Welcome to the toughest test in golf.
Steve Pimental Breaks Down the Field
Dom mentioned in his course breakdown that the USGA wants the winner to play flawless golf, and while populating your DFS lineup with six flawless golfers may not be possible, I will make an effort to find players who don’t have any glaring weaknesses. Guys who hit it straight and avoid big mistakes should have an advantage in a tournament where par is a good score.
The main stats I’m looking at this week are Par 4 scoring, Bogey Avoidance and Strokes Gained: Approach. Most of the top players do well in all three categories, though I find it extremely interesting Jon Rahm ranks 114th in SG: Approach. Mostly, though, I am looking at these stats to try to unearth some cheaper plays.
Those cheap plays are especially important this week because the top of the field is so strong. It seems like everyone who is anyone has won a tournament in the last few weeks. Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have all won in the last four months. Dom and I prefer some of these players to others, but just about any of them are capable of winning. Whenever possible, I love loading up on second and third-tier players for PGA DFS, but I think you almost have to pick two expensive players for every lineup, and then just fill in as best you can around them.
The U.S. Open is somewhat unique in that even though the tournament is played on a different course every year, the USGA tends to set the courses up in a way that makes them play pretty similarly. In general, a U.S. Open course will be long with narrow fairways, deep rough and challenging greens. Some golfers handle that particular challenge better than others, and so it is worth taking a look at previous U.S. Opens to try to find players who could excel at this one.
That being said, two recent U.S. Opens were played on courses that are atypical for what we have come to expect from the USGA: Erin Hills in 2017 and Chambers Bay in 2015. In both cases, weather played a factor. Erin Hills did not get the wind the USGA was anticipating, and it played as one of the easiest U.S. Open venues ever. The fairways were so wide and the conditions were so mild that the tall grass barely came into play.
Similarly, Chambers Bay was in pretty bad shape for the U.S. Open, especially the greens. Even if the greens were better, the course itself is much more of a links-style course than what we think of as a traditional U.S. Open course. Shinnecock is a more traditional U.S. Open venue, like Oakmont in 2016 or Pinehurst and Merion in 2014 and 2013. I am particularly interested in players who played well on those courses.
Why Dom Is All Aboard the Tiger Train
I know that this topic gets beat to death, but on the 10th anniversary of his last major victory, it seems relevant to discuss Tiger and his chances this week. In a brief back and forth with Steve earlier in the week, I came away quite surprised to hear that he is completely fading the GOAT. I know that we as fantasy owners can at times get caught up in narrative, so I will try to avoid such things here…
My love for Tiger this week has little to do with my love of Tiger over the last 20 years. This week I look at a golfer who fits what the course is going to ask of him. A player, who in his new form is taking fewer chances – particularly by clubbing down more – Tiger of late hasn’t shown the eagerness to attack par 5’s in two when the course play doesn’t call for it. A wiser and more mature Tiger Woods has been showing restraint in all of the good ways.
The course this week calls for strong winds and a punishing rough alongside the fairways, you say?
Many will be scared off by this because of his noted struggles with the driver over the last six months, but to me it’s no matter, as Tiger is likely to utilize his world famous “stinger” 2-iron tee shot, that will keep his ball on the fairways and safe from the unpredictable winds. When using the stinger so far this season, you can probably count on one hand how many fairways he has missed. Combine that with the fact that the fairways will be rolling incredibly firm and fast, and there is a chance that Tiger’s stingers will be measured at well over 300 yards off the tee.
The course this week calls for elite ball strikers with strong approach play and scrambling, you say?
No matter again, as it can be argued that Tiger is the best iron player in the field this week. His current form offers a host of made cuts, including four top-12 finishes, and without great driving and putting statistics, Tiger has been able to accomplish this almost solely off of his elite iron play and scrambling ability. As it stands, Woods comes in inside the top-25 in important statistics such as proximity to the hole, and overall scrambling, while he’s inside the top-five in SG: approach, SG: around the green, SG: T2G, and proximity from the rough.
But what about Tiger’s recent putting woes?
While Woods has struggled with the flat stick of late, historically he not only putts his best on the big stages (look no further than The Masters and The Players this season), but he also does his best on firm and fast greens. If you have been listening to me at all so far, you will understand that greens don’t get firmer or faster than the ones at Shinnecock. Another potential positive for Tiger is that as a California kid, he is no stranger to potentially unpredictable Poa Annua greens. While many tend to struggle on Poa, Tiger grew up playing on those types of surfaces out west. His last major win in fact came on Poa greens at Torrey Pines in 2008.
So, to summarize… Shinnecock Hills is a long course with windy, demanding, tee shots and penal rough running alongside its fairways. While this should spell disaster for Tiger and his typically errant driver, this week he should have no problem implementing his world-famous 2-iron “stinger” – a shot that is as reliable as Kareem Abdul Jabbar's “skyhook.” After finding more fairways than expected, Tiger Woods – arguably the world’s best iron player at the moment – will have a distinct advantage over the field in terms of sticking the ball close. Proximity to the pin will be ultra-important this week with Shinnecock’s recently expanded collection and runoff areas around the greens. If he happens to miss the green, so far this season Tiger has shown a prowess for getting up and down, both out of bunkers and the rough, as he’s near the top in important statistical categories such as SG: around the green, proximity from the rough, and scrambling. Despite his noted weakness with the putter of late, Shinnecock’s firm, fast, and familiar Poa Annua style greens should make him feel right at home. Combine all of this, with the fact that he’s an experienced 14-time major winner, and I think it is impossible to fade Tiger this week.
Steve Pimental on What’s Driving Him Away from Tiger
If we’re looking for guys who don’t have any glaring weaknesses, Tiger doesn’t fit the bill. His putting has been pretty terrible in his last two tournaments and as good as he has been with his irons and around the green, there is no doubt he needs to putt better to contend.
The real reason I’m fading Tiger this week, however, is the driver. Shinnecock Hills is 500 yards longer than in 2004, and I think Tiger is going to have to pull driver more often than he would like. Tiger just has too many big misses off the tee with the driver, and those misses will be punished in U.S. Open rough. If Tiger elects to hit 2-iron off the tee, I doubt he can give himself enough birdie chances to keep up with the guys who can drive it long and straight.
Finally, Tiger has consistently gotten off to slow starts on Thursday, and he isn’t good enough to charge to a big lead on Friday and Saturday after a mediocre opening round like he did in the past. Tiger is tied with Stewart Cink at 116th in Round 1 Scoring Average this season. That being said, if he makes it to the weekend, I will change my tune. Tiger is tied with Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson for second in Round 3 Scoring Average, and he will almost certainly be in a Saturday-only lineup if he makes it that far.
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