Fantasy Golf Picks — 2019 Desert Classic Picks, Rankings, Sleepers, Preview

2019 Desert Classic Picks, Rankings, Sleepers, Preview

Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2019 Desert Classic Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks and provide their one and done strategy for the event from PGA West.

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2019 Desert Classic Field

156 Players | Top 70 & Ties Make The Cut after 54 Holes
First Tee: 11:30am ET; Thursday, January 17
Defending Champion: Jon Rahm

The TOUR returns back to the mainland for the first time in 2019 to kick off the West Coast Swing, sans sponsor. Formally the CareerBuilder, Humana, Bob Hope, and Clintons as title sponsors, the annual stop in La Quinta is now the Desert Classic. I suppose Big Cheesecake could be shelling out the cash and there’s merely a typo in the name, but I figure that would have been clarified by now.

World No. 1 Justin Rose and defending champ Jon Rahm headline the three-course tournament, joined only by one other Top 20 player in the world rankings: Patrick Cantlay. With the new schedule stacking high-end events starting next week at Torrey Pines, all the way to The Masters (minus the Valspar. The poor, poor Valspar), it’s not shocking to see a dip in the quality of this field in 2019. And, it’s not like the Desert Classic annually sports a loaded field to begin with, especially with a premiere EURO event running simultaneously — Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

After the big three, the field levels out in the middle tier with Phil Mickelson making his seventh start in the past eight years, joined by Kevin Kisner, Abraham Ancer (hardly knew her), Aaron Wise, Brian Harman, Russell Knox, Zach Jonson, Adam Hadwin (back to the site of his 2017 3rd Rd 59), Chez Reavie and Si WOOOO Kim. We’ll get our first glimpses of Luke List, CT Pan, Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman, Bronson Burgoon, Peter Uihlien, Beau Hossler, Brendan Steele, JJ Spaun (Engagement SWAG), Harold Varner III, and Joaquin Niemann in 2019 too. 

Charles Howell III, Patton Kizzire, Andrew Landry, Scott Piercy, and Andrew Putnam (hardly knew him) will all be playing for the third consecutive week to kick off the new year.

Scanning down the field you stumble into some international flavor with Charl Schwartzel and, the legend, Danny Willett. Plus, American playing abroad, and world No. 108, John Catlin is making his stateside debut after working his way from the Asian Development Tour to the Asian Tour over the last two years. Catlin won three times on the Asian Tour last year, and piled up a T22 and T54 at the CIMB Classic and WGC-HSBC Champions during the PGA Swing Season.

Along with Rahm and Phil, former winners Hudson Swafford, Pat Perez, Brian Gay, Charley Hoffman, Jason Dufner, Jhonny Vegas, DJ Trahan, Bill Haas, and Mark Wilson will all be in attendance. Oh, world’s most famous Uber driver Mike Weir is another former champion in the field. But odds are -10000 he’s makes more money from Sunday surge pricing than on the course.


2019 Desert Classic Key Stats

Strokes Gained: Approach Par 4s Gained
Opportunities Gained
Strokes Gained: Off The Tee
Par 5s Gained

Mayo’s Custom Stat POWER RANKINGS from FantasyNational.com


2019 Desert Classic Course(s)

Course: Stadium Course at PGA West (SC) Par: 72
Yardage: 7,113
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: Yes
2018 Ranking: 36/51 in Difficulty
2018 Par 5 Eagles: 14

Course: Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West (TC) Par: 72
Yardage: 7,159
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: No
2018 Ranking: 50/51 in Difficulty
2018 Par 5 Eagles: 10

Course: La Quinta CC (LQ) Par: 72
Yardage: 7,060
Greens: Bermuda
Shotlink: No
2018 Ranking: 51/51 in Difficulty
2018 Par 5 Eagles: 24


2019 Desert Classic Notes

The 2019 Desert Classic will be contested across three courses: Stadium Course (Pete Dye design), Nicklaus Tournament Course (Jack Nicklaus design, obv), and La Quinta CC (Lawrence Hughes & Clive Clark design) . The players will rotate all three courses between Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The entire field is guaranteed 54 holes to accumulate DraftKings points, and the cut won’t take place until after Round 3. The remaining players will play the Stadium Course on Sunday for the final round.

Shotlink data (and Shot Tracker) is only available on the Stadium Course, so all Strokes Gained data you encounter in your research only comes from the SC, not TC or LQ. If someone references the amount of strokes a player has gained on the greens during this event, just know they’re only talking half the rounds. Assumptions, pretty solid ones, can be made about performance at the other courses, but if anyone says they know for certain, they’re lying. It’s also extremely problematic for in-play and daily match-up wagering and showdown/weekend DraftKings contests. In an average week, ShotLink data can usually point directly to the more underrated players and best values almost immediately. If you’re going to play head-to-heads or three-balls during the event, try to target the players coming off playing SC so you have the most information at your disposal.

Also, with no Shot Tracker and limited camera coverage at TC or LQ, prepare for an infuriating three days of coverage where you won’t know what’s going on with your players, along with plenty of incorrectly reported eagles and triple-bogeys. It’s horrible. Prime example, when Hadwin was on 59 watch in 2017, there were no cameras at LQ to actually cover it until he was on hole 17.

Players starting on the Stadium Course for round one have historically been at a giant disadvantage.

To make things even more fun, this is a Pro-Am too. Pro-Am slows down the pace of play for each round, and unlike the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the Ams are legit nobodies. You’re not getting Bill Murray, or even Ray Romano this week, you’re getting the treasurer of the Palm Springs Film Festival.

The cut will trim the field to the top 70 and ties for Sunday, UNLESS 78 or more players qualify, which will enact the dreaded MDF Made Cut/Did Not Finish. In most tournaments, since the field is trimmed following the second round, if 78 or more players make the cut, a secondary cut will occur after the third round so the course isn’t cluttered during the final round. Since there is no initial cut until after 54 holes at the Desert Classic, it changes to the top 60 and ties. The Top 70 and ties all get paid and earn FedEx Cup points, whether they play Sunday or not. Since so many of the lower-priced players on DraftKings will get to score for at least 54 holes, the difference in raw DraftKings points between expensive and cheap players will be smaller than in a regular week.

Bill Haas, Adam Hadwin, Ryan Palmer, Brendan Steele, and Hudson Swafford gained the most total strokes the past five years. Between the five, they each have a win or a second-place finish. Hadwin has actually never shot over par in 16 rounds at this event. Unsurprisingly, Mike Weir has lost the most strokes over the same stretch. An impressive -33.28 strokes gained. In only three starts too!

In the past six years, Howell, Hadwin, Kizzire, Burgoon, Harris English, and DA Points haven’t missed a cut — Minimum of three starts. This should showcase the volatility of this event.

Players are more than 7,000 under par on the Par 5s since 2012, that over 4,000 more strokes under par on Par 5s than any other course. However very few eagles are made at the Stadium Course, which the players will get twice. Meaning, the gap between bombers and short hitters on the longer holes is far closer than most weeks. And this translates all throughout the course. Essentially, these courses resemble everyone I dated before my lovely wife, short and easy.

The 2011 and 2012 Q-School was held at the Stadium Course.

The average drive on the Stadium Course is more than seven yards shorter than TOUR average. SC was second to Pebble Beach last season as the course with shortest average driving distance (272.8) and fewest drives over 300 yards (just 9.8%). Bombers have won the past two years (Rahm and Swafford), but, in previous events, the shorter hitting collection of Dufner, Reed, Gay and Wilson all claimed victory, so there’s no one definitive prototypical skill set to target. Still, with so much water and sand in play on the Stadium Course, if you load up on short hitters, make sure they gain strokes off the tee through accuracy. The bombers will inherently see their driving accuracy increase since they won’t be hitting as many drivers off the tee, and if they are wayward with the big stick, at least they’ll be closer to the hole for an easier recovery.

Although they’re listed as Bermuda greens, the putting surfaces are also oversewed with Ryegrass and Poa Trivialis. Historically, they run on the slower side of average; TC and LQ both ranked inside the Top 5 of courses with the fewest 3-putts in 2018.

Of the past 10 winners, nine played at least one of the two Hawaii events to open the year. Additionally, four of the last five winners had a Top 20 finish in one of those Hawaii starts. PME golf regular Rick Gehman made this into an easy for everyone to figure out.


2019 Desert Classic Picks — Targets From Each Range

Jon Rahm

Winning last year doesn’t hurt, but the tie breaker between the Spaniard and the other two favorites (Rose and Cantlay) is lack of rust. Neither Rose or Cantlay has played so far in 2019, while Rahm churned out a quality T8 at the Tournament of Champions, a week where he gained 6.2 strokes on the field ball striking.

Abraham Ancer

No players gained more strokes off the tee at the Sony Open than Mexican Allen Iverson — The Ancer. His +5.7 SG: OTT was almost a full stroke better than second-place Bryson DeChambeau. How’d Ancer do it? Well, he hit over 80% of fairways at the course with the most difficult fairways to hit, and still managed to remain inside the Top 20 of driving distance as well. That’s perfect. Hit it long enough to put every gettable Par 5 into play, yet hit it straight enough to stay out of the desert. Ancer’s never had success at this event in the past (76/MC/T56), but I’m confident saying he’s a far different player than he was even this time last year. When he hit his first shot in Palm Springs last year, Ancer was the 272nd ranked player in the world. A win at the Australian Open, and six Top 10s later, Ancer will tee off as the 57th ranked player in the world. That’s a pretty sizable leap in one year. Overall, he has three Top 5 finishes in his last five starts, too.

Hudson Swafford

Likely to be a very popular selection across the industry for the 2019 Desert Classic, Swafford returns to the scene of his 2017 breakthrough, still his only win on the PGA. He hasn’t lacked consistency; Swafford’s been quite mediocre for some time now. Since missing the cut at last year’s PLAYERS Championship on Mother’s Day weekend, the Swafficer had made 9/10 cuts, with just one finish inside the Top 25 — T12 at the Canadian Open. Until last week. Not out of nowhere, but certainly surprising, Swafford began looking like the guy who heated up at Sony and won this event two years ago. On the heels of a -6 Sunday at Waialae, he gained strokes off the tee and through approach in every round, finishing with an immaculate +8.1 Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, good for sixth in the field. If he can merely be good (we don’t need great) with his putter, he’ll challenge for a second title in the desert.

Other notable names appearing near the top of stat models and the win simulator at FantasyNational.com: Sam Ryder, Patrick Cantlay, CT Pan, Andres Albertson, Justin Rose, Joaquin Niemann, Richy Werenski, Chez Reavie, Corey Conners


Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo’s (@ThePME) 14 Fantasy Sports Writing Association nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting) and genre (humor). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.


I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) 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.