WATCH: PRICE CHECK – U.S. OPEN
The Cheat Sheet provides fantasy golf players with course info, player history and the most noteworthy trends of the week to help them with their roster selections.
The second major championship of 2017 is upon us. The U.S. Open begins Thursday, and it promises to bring the drama. Last season, Dustin Johnson prevailed in the face of a bizarre rules controversy on the final day, and also overcame a terrible three-putt at this event from 2015 on the final hole. The U.S. Open is unique among majors as the USGA (the people who set up the course/event every year) usually make it their goal to ensure par or worse is the winning score. This course this season — Erin Hills — will be seen for the first time in competition on the PGA Tour and promises to be a spectacle in and of itself. This will be a great week for fantasy golf.
The field for the U.S. Open is comprised of 156 players, with several of the players in the field (pros and non-pros alike) gaining entry through local and international qualifying. With only a limited number of exemptions given out for recent major winners and players in the top 60 in the WGR, the U.S. Open remains one of the most wide-open events in terms of who can qualify. For fantasy purposes, this also means that some well-known players (Tony Finau, Hudson Swafford) who did not make it through qualifying will not be in attendance, and in their place will be some far lesser known golfers.
For DraftKings purposes the irregular field will make for some interesting decisions down at the bottom of the salary charts when making lineups as more than a handful of unproven players will be teeing it up this week. As for the field itself, all of the top players are here including Rory McIlroy (rib injury), Dustin Johnson (back) and Jason Day (personal). The one player who is currently listed in the field, and has a tee time, but has publicly stated that he is not playing is Phil Mickelson (personal). Mickelson is supposedly skipping this year’s U.S. Open to go to his daughter’s graduation; however, I would monitor this situation closely in case things change the week of the event.
One major difference to take note of this week is the cut. In a normal tour event, the top 70 and ties move on to the weekend, with a secondary cut needed if more than 78 players make the weekend. In the U.S. Open, the top 60 and ties get to play the weekend and there is no secondary cut. Also note that while any player within 10 of the lead after Friday’s round used to also get through, that rule was abolished a few years ago.
Erin Hills — Erin, Wisconsin
Par 72, 7,600-7,800 yards (depending on setup)
Erin Hills was opened in 2006 and is a publicly accessible golf course that is hosting its first U.S. Open this week, and its first ever PGA Tour event, too. Prior to this season, it had also been the host of the 2011 U.S. Amateur event.
The course itself is an open style layout in the middle of Wisconsin which features rolling dunes, fescue style grass, very difficult looking “erosion bunkers” and some extremely unique green complexes. It was described by USGA boss Mike Davis as “a heartland course” and an “American original”. Erin Hills will play as a par 72 this week and features four par 5s, four par 3s and 10 par 4s, making it the first traditional par 72 layout used in a U.S. Open since Pebble Beach in 1992. While the course can stretch up to 8,000 yards at it’s longest, the USGA has gone on record as saying it will play somewhere closer to 7,600-7,700 yards, which is more reasonable for a par 72. When you add in the fact that the fairways at Erin Hills are expected to play hard and fast, pure distance off the tee may not be as large a factor this week as anticipated.
Even if bombing it off the tee isn’t a necessity, the winner will still surely still have to have a good week with the driver, as this is a course where players will likely be hitting a lot of drivers. All of the par 5s at Erin Hills measure in at over 600 yards, with the shortest being the 607-yard seventh hole, and the longest being the 663-yard finishing hole. Additionally, six of the 10 par 4s come in at 450 yards, with two of them exceeding 500 yards on the scorecard. Even with some wider, rolling fairways, players will need to avoid the heavy rough and the naturally occurring erosion bunkers off the tee as well, and so targeting great drivers of the golf ball here is still a good idea here. Strokes Gained: Off the Tee is likely a good stat to emphasize in research.
Outside of these longer holes, Erin Hills has many other unique challenges awaiting players. The par 3 ninth is only listed at 165 yards but plays slightly downhill to a dome-style green which is guarded on all sides by fescue and sand. It is described as the course’s signature hole and does not disappoint from a visual perspective, which can also be said for most of the course. Additionally, two of the par 4s on the course (the second and the 15th) set up at well under 400 yards and will act as more risk/reward holes for those who attempt to drive the heavily guarded greens.
2017 Outlook: The final note on Erin Hills that we must discuss for fantasy purposes is the weather. The course has a few trees but none that will provide any sanctuary should the wind get up. This is a course that will play much differently (i.e. difficult) if the weather turns bad. It’s a little early, but so far the forecast for 2017 looks promising. There is some decent wind forecasted for the first days, with gusts possible approaching 20 mph in spots, but sunny skies are expected and overall it doesn’t look overly ominous. Saturday and Sunday do have a more overcast look, with possible showers or storms, but winds are actually expected to be lower on the weekend, so the rain may even help scoring. Make sure you check back on Wednesday in case the wind shifts to favor one side of the draw, but otherwise I wouldn’t let the weather dictate your lineups too much this week, at least based on the early forecast.
Last six winners
- 2016 – Dustin Johnson -4 (over Shane Lowry, Jim Furyk and Scott Piercy -1)
- 2015 – Jordan Spieth -5 (over Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen -4)
- 2014 – Martin Kaymer -9 (over Rickie Fowler and Eric Compton -1)
- 2013 – Justin Rose +1 (over Phil Mickelson and Jason Day +3)
- 2012 – Webb Simpson +1 (over Graeme McDowell and Michael Thompson +2)
- 2011 – Rory McIlroy -16 (over Jason Day -8)
- Five of the last 11 U.S. Open winners had a win on the season before their victory
- Six of the last seven winners of the U.S. Open had recorded at least four top-10s on the season before their U.S. Open win.
- All of the last seven winners of the U.S. Open ranked inside the top-20 in Greens in Regulation Percentage for the week of their win.
- Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
- Greens in Regulation
- Par 4 Efficiency 450-500 Yards
A solid approach game is key in many a tournament but with more penal rough and some extreme bunkering this week that adage should hold true even more so at Erin Hills. Greens in Regulation is a stat that almost always plays a key role in the U.S. Open as none of the winners from the past seven years have ranked outside the top-20 in this stat for the week of their win, with last year’s champ Dustin Johnson ranking first for the week in 2016.
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee is another area I would target this week. Driving Distance may be a factor when all is said and done, but with fast fairways and a links-style setup, the roll will help all players get distance off the tee. Hitting it long and straight will be the key, and that’s where Strokes Gained: Off the Tee comes in as it measures more than pure distance. We don’t have Strokes Gained stats from past U.S. Opens, but given the nature of the course and the driving prowess of past champions of this event, I’d weight it more heavily this week than most.
Finally, I’d also look at Par 4 Efficiency stats this week. Six of the 10 par 4s at Erin Hills will fall inside (or just longer) than the 450-500 range, so targeting Par 4 Efficiency stats from this area should be key this week. Erin Hills does throw a variety of hole setups at players, but the largest cluster falls within this range.
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful of putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their odds of winning this week.
|Justin Thomas||33-1||$8,300||Branden Grace $8,600 and 50-1
Brooks Koepka $9,000 and 40-1
Paul Casey $8,400 and 50-1
|Martin Kaymer||66-1||$7,000||Bernd Wiesberger $7,100 and 100-1
Russell Henley $7,200 and 100-1
Steve Stricker $7,200 and 125-1
U.S. Open Form
The U.S. Open is played at rotating courses, so looking back at past course history isn’t possible this week. That being said, the USGA set up each year is often quite similar, so looking back at who has had success at this event over their career is at least worth reviewing.
Jason Day has played in the U.S. Open six times and only finished outside of the top-10 once. He has runner-up finishes from both 2011 at Congressional and 2013 at Merion. Day was also in contention at another public access course seeing its first U.S. Open test in 2015 at Chambers Bay — before he fell back due to vertigo. He’s found some form recently and may be in the hunt again this year.
Sergio Garcia has not missed a cut at the U.S. Open since 2008, and overall, he has amassed five top-10 finishes over his career. Garcia was in the hunt last season before fading back to a T5 finish but should find this links-style set up appealing. He’s very much in play to capture his second major this week.
Dustin Johnson has now played in nine U.S. Opens and amassed a record of four top-10s, a win and 8/9 cuts made. The defending champion will be looking to be the first person since Curtis Strange in 1988/89 to defend the U.S. Open title and, as the number one player in the world would seem to have a decent chance to do so.
Jim Furyk has now played in 22 U.S. Opens and amassed seven top-5 finishes, including a T2 finish from last season. The 2003 U.S. Open winner has only missed three cuts in those 22 appearances and shouldn’t go overlooked, even with the longer setup at Erin Hills.
Top Recent Form
1. Alex Noren won in a strong field at the BMW PGA three weeks ago and has three top-15 finishes in his last three starts.
2. Kevin Kisner won two weeks ago at Colonial and was T6 at Memorial the following week. He is 18-under in his last eight rounds of play.
3. Matt Kuchar has T4-T12-T9 finishes over his last three starts and is a combined 19-under-par over his last 12 rounds of play.
Top Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (Season)
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jon Rahm
3. Sergio Garcia
Top Strokes Gained: Putting (Season)
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Michael Thompson
3. Matthew Fitzpatrick
WATCH: U.S. OPEN LINEUP CONSTRUCTION
Cash Games: The talent level in this field drops off significantly after the $6,600 mark this week, so a more balanced approach is likely the best way to attack cash games. At the top, Dustin Johnson ($12,000) likely has the best floor of any of the top-five players this week but also costs the most and only leaves us with $7,600 avg. salary left if we use him. I would personally instead prefer to start in the $10K range and target players like Jason Day (five top-tens in six US Opens), Rickie Fowler ($10,500) and Jon Rahm ($10,300). Going down further some other solid cash game targets include Paul Casey ($8,400), Louis Oosthuizen ($7,400), Francesco Molinari ($7,000), Peter Uihlein ($6,900) and Marc Leishman ($6,700).
Tournaments: Even with the two missing the cut at the Memorial, I would still expect Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm to soak up a lot of ownership this week. With that in mind, looking at players like Jordan Spieth, Sergio Garcia and Jason Day from the top region makes sense. Spieth may not be super long off the tee but he won his U.S. Open on a similarly styled golf course at Chambers Bay and has shown good form his last two starts. Some other, high-upside targets to think about this week include Henrik Stenson ($9,300), Branden Grace ($8,600), Bernd Wiesberger ($7,100) and Chris Wood ($6,500).
MY PICK: Jason Day ($10,800)
If I was looking at Day from a purely statistical viewpoint this week then it would be hard for me to make a good argument for him. Outside of his putting and around the green play, Day hasn’t been great lately and has now lost strokes to the field on approaches in six of his last eight rounds. Despite this inefficiency, Day has still amassed second and 15th place finishes over his last two starts, with the 15th place finish at the Memorial representing his best ever finish at that event. Day is so good around the greens that even if his approach game improves a little this week that alone could propel him to a win, and while we may fear the tough U.S. Open setup Day has proven capable of peaking for this event as he already has five top-10 to his name in just six U.S. Open starts. With his mother’s health improved and his own health no longer an issue, Day seems to be playing much freer of late and for that reason alone I’d not be shocked at all if he put it all together here and won his second major. He’s one of my favorite targets this week on DraftKings and a player you shouldn’t overlook based his sub-par results from earlier in the year.
My Value: Marc Leishman ($6,700)
Leishman has had a strong season by any standard thus far as the Aussie picked up his second career win on the PGA this year at the tough Bay Hill CC, and has also amassed a total of seven top-25 finishes in 13 starts so far. The former rookie of the year may finally be ready to reach his full potential this season and has looked solid over his last few starts. Leishman ranked sixth and fifth in Greens in Regulation Percentage in his appearances at the DEAN & DELUCA and the Byron Nelson, and he was also second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee last week at the Memorial. For the season, Leishman ranks 25th in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee stats and has nice major championship experience to fall back on this week, too, with a T4 at Augusta from back in 2011 and a famous playoff loss at the Open Championship in 2015. Leishman is also coming off his best finish ever at a U.S. Open (T18) from last season and is a known wind player who has thrived at open-style venues in the past; including the ultimate links test at St. Andrews. It may seem like a stretch, but don’t be shocked if the big man is up near the lead on the back nine this week and perhaps even pulls off the ultimate upset.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is wavegoodbye) 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.