PGA Insights: RSM Classic

The RSM Classic tees off Thursday morning from the Sea Island Resort in Georgia. There are plenty of familiar names available to choose from, but like every week, if you’re going to roster the most expensive options, you are going to have to balance those choices off with one or two choices that carry with them a fair amount of risk.

Obviously, goals change depending on the type of contest you’re entering, but it is important to note that, whether you’re in a 50/50 or a GPP, there are some differences in the way you think about upside in golf vs. other sports. For a golfer, being in contention every week automatically gives you upside. But there is another kind of upside, which is measured simply by your ability to card birdies.

You can think of the second kind as “fantasy upside.” It comes into play in a big way in a tournament like this one, where the top talent is not all on hand, but scores for everyone who is on hand could come in very low. You need players who can do more than hang around – you need players who can blow up. This is the difference, in a bigger tournament, in Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. Stenson is awesome, one of the best golfers in the world, but he does it by eliminating mistakes. Garcia can be one of the best in the world as well, but when he is, he gets there by holing 20+ birdies. And because predicting exactly where a player is going to be on the leaderboard proves difficult, being able to turn to a player’s history and statistics to try to predict fantasy performance feels a little more comfortable.

For this week, the names might not be as prominent, but the idea is the same. Look, for example, at a player like Hudson Swafford, whose top finishes so far this season have been more than useful: most players would happily take two top-25s on the young season. Not only does Swafford have a T24 and a T17, but he had 78 and 87 fantasy points in the two, respectively. You can do that when you’re carding 18 birdies, even if you do have enough bogeys to push you down the leaderboard in the end. At the CIMB Classic, he finished T24., but the two players immediately in front of him – Lahiri and Knox – each had two fewer holes under par.

The stat that you could use to identify these players, maybe to break a tie if you’re deciding between two similarly priced plays, is simple for me this week: Birdie or Better %. When you’re looking at two players who are otherwise similar, who have the same potential to win or finish well in a tournament, a stat that tells you who drains more birdies is a stat that tells you who is the better fantasy option. Sometimes it is that simple.