PGA DFS: An Introduction to Rank Advantage

Every week on this site and for my Draftkings (DK) Live analysis blurbs, I write up which statistics are correlated to success at a given event. It’s my default starting point. I look at how the course has played, historically, and see which types of golfers are most likely to do well in a given week. There is a spectrum of golfers, and it’s hard to categorize them into any set number of groups. You have bombers, but some of those guys are better around the green, or are great with the long irons and lose it while scrambling. You have short hitters that can get up and down from anywhere, and some that hit greens but can’t putt. Classifying golfers is a question for another article, but the same problem can be said about courses.
Golf courses can be very weather dependent, for example. TPC San Antonio is a relatively easy course when the wind is down, but when it picks up, you can bet that guys are going to have some blow-up holes. The PGA DFS community persists in trying to label a course or a golfer in these sweeping binary categories. Bombers vs. Short-Hitters. Second Shot Courses vs. Scrambling Courses. In reality, though, these discussions shouldn’t be in black or white, we should discuss them in terms of a spectrum.
At the end of the day, for fantasy golf- and DFS golf in particular- we care about DraftKings Points. Yes, picking winners is great when you’re betting, but you are essentially running a six-player parlay with every lineup you build on DK. With that in mind, when we build a lineup, we should be looking at optimizing scoring. I’ve developed a database of every players’ results since 2003, and DraftKings Points have a .74 r-squared with Finish Position. While that’s a very strong correlation, that still means that there is 26% of DK Points that are left unexplained by a golfer’s actual finish position in the tournament. A guy that finishes T24 can outscore a guy in the top ten depending on how they each got there.

Bird’s Eye View questions for this research:

  • In a vacuum, which stats lead to more DK Points?
  • Do the stats that matter for DK Scoring differ based on the course par?
  • How can we leverage this in our process?

How Stats Relate to DK Points

The table below shows the averages for golfers since 2010 (who have made the cut) that finish either inside or outside of the Top 25 in a given category. Using ranks gives us a good idea as to how golfers are performing relative to the field in the particular stat we’re focusing on. It’s important to remember that a lot of these courses play differently. Sometimes a course calls for fewer drivers off the tee, but the ranks capture how all of these stats affect DraftKings Scoring when taken relative to other golfers in the field. When we examine this with these criteria, I’ll refer to it as T25 Rank Advantage. Here are the results, across all courses since 2003 with no filters.

Major takeaways:

  • Hitting actual greens in regulation and having birdie putts intuitively should lead to more scoring than just being closer to the pin
    Strokes Gained: Approach captures some of the proximity advantages
  • Putting is a significant factor, but I’ve yet to build a model that is even somewhat predictive
  • In a vacuum, doing well in any stat for that week (relative to your competitors) is an advantage (duh.).

How Stats Relate to DK Points By Par

The table below shows the difference in DK Points for golfers since 2010 (who have made the cut) that finish either inside or outside of the Top 25 in a given category. It’s broken up by par for the course where a given event was played.

Major Takeaways:

  • It appears that the assumption that Par 72s require distance and Par 70s require accuracy is confirmed
  • Greens in Regulation is pretty flat; it’s one of the most important stats regardless of course par
  • Strokes Gained: OTT is reasonably flat as well. It’s undoubtedly important, as it can earn you seven extra DK Points but figuring out how golfers gain strokes off the tee at a given course might help in breaking down who to target.

How Can We Leverage This In Our Process?

You’re probably thinking, “Ok, great. I’ve looked at two charts that confirm what most people say about courses and scoring in general, what’s going to win me all the monies?” There are different ways to look at this, but the approach I’m taking is that we can not only clearly see what stats are important now, but to what degree they’re important. By using T25 Rank Advantage (which I’ve referenced above) and T10 Rank Advantage (which I’m referencing now), we can begin to uncover how vital a stat is.
Take a course like The Old White Course which has hosted the Greenbrier Classic since 2010. The T10 Rank Advantage for Driving Distance there is +9 DK Points. Meaning that the golfers who finish inside the Top 10 in that category average nine more DK Points than those who make the cut, but finish outside of the Top 10 in Driving Distance. The T25 Rank Advantage is even better, at over +14 DK Points. Distance is beneficial to be above field average in DK Points, but the longest bombers don’t necessarily see as much of an advantage there. There’s a link below for you to take a look at how these breakdown on each course for yourself. Or, you can just follow along each week with the articles to get the pertinent information, up to you!

Course Rank Advantage Database


I host a podcast called Bogey Free which can be found on iTunes or YouTube. I'm one of the PGA Analysts at DraftKings. On this site, you can find me talking Football Redraft or PGA DFS. Follow along on Twitter @MattJonesTFR to stay up to date.

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