Daily Fantasy Golf: Quantifying the Importance of Ownership Rates
The deeper you dive into the world of daily fantasy sports, the more things become commonplace.
You know that you need to alter your lineups depending on your game type -- whether it's a head-to-head in which you need to beat just one opponent or a large-field tournament in which you need to beat a few thousand people.
Along with that, you learn that ownership is vital when building tournament squads. If every lineup owns a particular player, you don't get an advantage if he does well. If everyone but you has him and he performs well below expectation, you can benefit.
Those are extreme examples, of course, but the point remains that you can benefit from trying to predict ownership percentages and embracing the volatility golf offers.
But does that actually hold up when we're discussing daily fantasy golf? Let's explore.
I've gathered details on 45 PGA Tour tournaments since June 1st, 2017.
The results are shocking!
(Well, maybe. It depends on your expectations. I just wanted to make sure you were still engaged.)
The Chalk (The Betting Favorites)
In our sample, we have 39 events that featured fields of at least 100 golfers. All of those actually featured at least 117 golfers, but it's easier to say that the cutoff is 100. All of these larger-field events, naturally, featured a cut.
These make up the majority of DFS contests, so I'll focus primarily on them.
In those 39 events, 198 golfers classified as having a top-five salary on FanDuel that week (this includes ties for fifth). Of those 198 golfers -- who we could consider studs that week relative to the rest of the field -- just 53 (26.8%) finished as a top-10 performer in terms of FanDuel points that week.
This means that nearly three-quarters of the top-five golfers in salary finished outside the top 10 in fantasy points that week.
The high-priced studs don't always produce.
In fact, 94 of them (47.5%) finished outside the top 25 in FanDuel points that week. Again, there's no guarantee that top-priced golfers produce, and that's a vital piece of information when building lineups.
Now let's look at the chalk from a different perspective: the betting chalk. We should expect a fair amount of overlap between betting favorites and top golfers by daily fantasy salary, but let's still take a look.
Of the 227 golfers who were top-five by win odds in a week (again, this includes golfers tied for fifth), 64 posted a top-10 FanDuel score. That's 28.2%.
That's quite similar to what we saw with the highest-priced FanDuel golfers in terms of hit rate. The favorites are still 70% likely to rank outside the top 10 in FanDuel points at the end of the week.
By now, it's safe to say that the favorites aren't a guarantee to perform. But we already probably knew that.
The Chalk (The High-Owned Golfers)
Chalky picks aren't always the most expensive. The favorites do tend to carry ownership (the average ownership rank of top-five priced golfers in this sample is 9.77), but let's now define the chalk as high-owned options in daily fantasy golf.
The top-priced golfer was the most-owned golfer in 17 of 39 tournaments (43.6%). The top-priced golfer ranked in the top-10 in ownership in all but six of these events and outside the top 13 in just three of them.
Fading the most expensive golfer on FanDuel is the easiest way to avoid some ownership and build unique lineups.
The only outliers in this sample include Dustin Johnson at the 2016-17 Open Championship (24th in ownership), Brooks Koepka at the 2017-18 Travelers Championship (22nd), and Graeme McDowell at the 2017-18 Corales Puntacana (18th). All of those make sense.
In that 2017 Open, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson were co-favorites at 12/1 to win. Johnson cost $10,400 on FanDuel, and Spieth cost $10,100. Spieth was owned on nearly 32.0% of FanDuel teams, and Johnson was on just 10.9%.
In that 2018 Travelers, Koepka was in a three-way tie for the second-best win odds but cost more than Justin Thomas (the favorite), Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed, and Spieth.
In the 2018 Corales Puntacana, McDowell was fifth in win odds in a weak field.
Let's keep digging into ownership.
We have to take this with a grain of salt because we can't predict ownership rates exactly, but we sure have come a long way in keeping tabs on how often players are discussed and what their ownership might look like when rosters lock.
In this 39-event sample, 196 golfers qualify as having a top-five ownership rate. Just 45 of them (23.0%) finished as a top-10 scorer on FanDuel that week.
That's lower than both the rates for the top five by salary (27.7%) and by betting odds (28.0%).
Now, that's partly because these high-owned golfers can come in the form of value plays, and you don't need a top-10 score if a golfer is cheap.
In fact, 89 of those 196 (45.4%) chalky golfers finished inside the top 25 in FanDuel scoring.
That's not bad, but it's actually still more likely that one of the five highest-owned golfers in a week finishes outside the top 25 than inside the top 25.
With just a six-man roster, this alone gives merit to trying to avoid the highest-owned golfers of the week. A top-25 score isn't dreadful, but if you're seeking upside, then this is a trend you should keep in the back of your mind.
Taking this a step further, there are 21 golfers in the sample who were owned on at least 50.0% of FanDuel rosters. That's massive chalk.
Of the 21 golfers on the majority of rosters, 17 (81.0%) performed above the field average in terms of FanDuel points. So by no means did they kill your lineups. However, only 4 of the 21 (19.0%) mega chalk golfers posted a score inside the top 10, the type of outing that you need to have on your lineup if you're trying to win tournaments.
It can be scary to fade a super obvious play, but the past year or so of data indicates that it was the right move more often than not.
And yes, factoring in ownership heavily is a tournament-centric approach. But only 11 of the 21 (52.4%) golfers owned on more than half of all FanDuel lineups ranked inside the top 25 in FanDuel points that week. It's a coin flip as to whether they're even going to be a top-25 option.
If we bump down that ownership to a still-really-heavy 30%, 74 of 127 (58.3%) golfers finished outside the top 25 in FanDuel points for the week.
If you want to play PGA DFS tournaments on FanDuel, you should be okay with tamping down your ownership to the chalk, whether that means the highest-priced golfers, those with the best win odds, or those expected to be on the highest percentage of lineups.
Is it any different in the majors?
Of the 30 golfers inside the top five in FanDuel salary over the past six majors (from the 2017 US Open through the 2018 Open Championship), 22 outperformed the week's average fantasy points, but only 6 (27.3%) were inside the top 10 in FanDuel points.
In fact, 16 of the 30 (53.3%) finished outside the top 25 in FanDuel points. In loaded majors, the most expensive picks, again, are less likely to pay off than we may hope for.
There are 32 golfers in this sample who classified as having top-five betting odds to win. Of those 32, 10 (31.3%) had a top-10 score on FanDuel, and 18 (56.3%) were inside the top 25.
But we're looking at only six events, so let's try to open it up a bit and look at the top 10 in those chalky categories.
The top 10 golfers by salary yield a sample of 61 golfers in these events. Of those 61, 16 (26.2%) had a top-10 score, and 30 (49.2%) were top-25.
The top 10 betting favorites (67 of them) finished inside the top 10 in FanDuel points 21 times (31.3%) and inside the top 25 in FanDuel points 35 times (52.2%).
From a daily fantasy ownership standpoint, we've got 30 golfers with a top-five ownership among the past six majors. Half of them posted a top-25 fantasy score, but only 9 (30.0%) were inside the top 10. Of the 60 golfers with a top-10 ownership, just 14 (23.3%) were top-10 in FanDuel points, and 31 (51.7%) were outside the top 25.
Similar to what we saw over the larger sample, the most popular picks don't always work out, allowing us the freedom to try to avoid them and benefit when they falter.
That's a lot to keep track of, so I'll throw everything that's particularly useful into a table for quick reference.
|Since June 1st, 2017||Percentage|
|Highest-priced golfer holding highest FanDuel Ownership||43.6%|
|Highest-priced golfer holding top-12 FanDuel Ownership||89.7%|
|Top-5 salary & top-10 in FanDuel points||26.8%|
|Top-5 salary & outside the top 25 in FanDuel points||47.5%|
|Top-5 win odds & top-10 in FanDuel points||28.2%|
|Top-5 win odds & outside the top 25 in FanDuel points||46.3%|
|Top-5 win ownership &top-10 in FanDuel points||23.0%|
|Top-5 win ownership & outside top-25 in FanDuel points||45.4%|
|50% ownership & top-10 in FanDuel points||19.0%|
|50% ownership & outside top 25 in FanDuel points||47.6%|
|30% ownership & top-10 in FanDuel points||21.3%|
|30% ownership & outside top 25 in FanDuel points||58.3%|
So, to reiterate, expensive golfers are generally high-owned on FanDuel, but the top-five by salary and win odds are more likely to finish outside the top 25 than inside the top 10 in FanDuel points.
When we see super chalky options (owned on at least 30% of all FanDuel teams), they're about 20% likely to finish inside the top 10 but nearly 60% likely to fall outside the top 25.
Golf is a volatile sport. The betting favorite or the world's top-ranked golfer isn't a lock to make the cut even in a weak field. Still, it can be nerve-wracking to fade the most sensible picks each week when building daily fantasy lineups.
Of course, the chalk -- whether it's viewed in terms of daily fantasy salary, betting odds, or ownership -- can and does pan out sometimes, so it's not a foolproof strategy to avoid chalk like the plague
But just as a reminder: nearly 60% of golfers owned on at least 30% of all FanDuel lineups finish outside the top 25 in FanDuel points that week.
Just knowing these odds should give us extra confidence in avoiding golfers who seem like the surest bets to contend come Sunday.