DFS Golf: Chalk Donkey – Sony Open – Draftkings and Fanduel DFS PGA Advice

It’s time for the first full-field event of the 2019 DFS PGA golf season! The Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii!

My name is Josh Thomas, and I am a PGA and NFL Coach here at DFS Army! Welcome to the 2019 PGA Season! We here at DFS Army have got you covered this year with my weekly preview out on Sunday Nights, Chalk Donkey article breaking down the ownership projections, where to pivot, and GPP strategy out Wednesdays, our Research Station that is full of more information than you could ever need, and the best optimizer in the business!

The PGA Tour’s first full field event of the season is the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii. Patton Kizzire returns to defend his title at a course that is known to be a tough test off the tee, but very scorable depending on the weather conditions. Players will need to find the fairway and rely on a solid approach game if they want to score well here. Or they can just miss every fairway, power through the rough and putt the lights out like Justin Thomas did en route to a score of -27 a few years ago here.

Course Breakdown:

The Sony Open is held yearly at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu, Hawaii. The PGA has made a stop here in one form or another since 1965, and the course actually has been featured in multiple video games, including True Golf Classics: Waialae Country Club on Super Nintendo, which was one of my favorite games growing up.


Waialae Country Club is a 7044-yard par 70 that, while par is three strokes less than the previous weeks’ par 73, has played fairly easy with winning scores the last few years of -17, -27 (hello Justin Thomas), -23 and -20. The course played on average a little over 1 stroke under par at last year’s event and gave up a whopping 1711 birdies.

Players who played last week will see a much different course this week with faster, smaller greens, and hard to hit fairways. While less undulating, it’s not a course that you can just grip and rip it like at Kapalua. The rough isn’t incredibly penal, but if you miss the fairway you’ll have a hard time getting it close to the pins on these greens.

While a premium should be placed on hitting fairways here, players have found ways to win without doing just that, including Justin Thomas who actually hit less than 50% of the fairways when he routed the field shooting -27, with a 59 in round one to boot.

If you look at the last few years top tens though, what you will find is straight hitters (not necessarily bombers) who are great wedge players. Players who keep the ball in front of them and don’t make too many mistakes.

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Not a lot of bombers here. You see names like Brian Harman, Zach Johnson, Chez Reavie, and Kevin Kisner. Not necessarily guys who hit it a country mile, but all guys who keep the ball in the fairways and give themselves a chance to make birdie from position A. That’s the type of golfer we want to target this week.

Getting it in play is the key here, and you’ll likely see many of the longer hitters hitting 2 irons off the tee just to give themselves a chance. Pulling driver on every hole more often than not means a long weekend on the beach.

The Bermuda greens will be much faster than they were last week at the Sentry, and that will be a bit of an adjustment for players coming over, but typically they have done pretty well here. They are some of the purest greens players will play all year though.

Wind will be a factor as usual, and while usually there isn’t much of an AM/PM advantage, it’s something to keep in mind. More or less it just affects the way that players attack a hole, or where their start line is off the tee. Similar to last week, experience here helps.

This course is a great test and a ballstrikers paradise. Get it in play and you can attack these pins and go low, get off track though and you’ll be fighting to play the weekend.

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What is a Chalk Donkey?

First, let’s break down what I consider to be ‘chalk’.  Let’s look at each price range and what is considered chalk there. (DK pricing is used for a guide)

Over 10K: >25% Anything over 25% in this range is considered chalk, and could even go down to 20%. Some weeks ownership is pretty evenly spread in this range, and some weeks one player gathers all the ownership and becomes a Chalk Donkey.

9K: >20% Again, any time over 20% of the field is on a player in this price range we would consider them a chalk donkey.

8K to 7.5K: 15%-20% This is a little trickier in this range, but I consider anyone over 15% chalk. DK has been jamming a bunch of guys in around 7.5k lately and we’ve seen guys get up there in ownership.

Below 7.5K: >10%  Players are priced here for a reason, and oftentimes one or two become what I call DFS Darlings and garner a ton of ownership While you usually have to eat this chalk in cash, you want to swerve it any chance you can in GPP’s.

One thing to remember as you construct lineups, players are ‘Chalk Donkeys’ for a reason, they are perceived to be good plays. Don’t fade the ‘Chalk Donkeys’ just because they are going to be highly owned. Very rarely does no chalk hit, and often times you find some of these ‘Chalk Donkeys’ in GPP winning lineups. Fading the chalk is strictly a leverage play, in that if that player plays poorly you are in much better shape not playing them. 

Key Stats this Week:

In this section, I’ll cover what I feel are some of the key stats this week. We get lots of questions in slack about what to look for in the RS and here are some of the things that I’ll be focusing on this week for the Sony Open.

Before we get into the stats this week, I wanted to provide you guys with a link to some info about Strokes Gained Data. Strokes Gained is a confusing topic and DFS Army member (And Milly Maker winner) @redkacheek has put out a great article explaining how they work better than I ever could over at his site Fantasy Golf Bag. I normally don’t link other sites but this is just too good not to share. Give it a look here! How Do Strokes Gained Stats Work?

Value Tab: 

The first thing I look at every week when I open up the  RS is the Value tab. Who is popping as a value this week. This is pretty easy to find as the better the value, the darker the green box. The value tab looks at Vegas odds and our projections, versus the salary FanDuel or DraftKings have assigned to that player.


Charles Howell III is popping as the best value on DK this week even at an elevated price tag of $8900. It might have something to do with the fact that he’s played her 17 times and made the cut all 17 times. He’s finished top 25 eleven times and top 10 nine times. He now has the added bonus of playing last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions which should help him knock whatever rust he had off. He’s likely to be one of the highest owned players this week and for good reason.

Fantasy Points Gained:

What do we want our golfers to do in DFS? Score more fantasy points than everyone else. This stat looks at how many fantasy points players gain on the field on average. It’s also adjusted for strength of the field.

No real surprises here as all of these guys are not only top players in the world but some of the best fantasy scorers out there. Seth Reeves pops up here after a solid run in the fall swing, though he’s not necessarily a guy I’ll be targeting as he struggles with his irons.

Emiliano Grillo is drawing very little buzz around the DFS community likely since he is priced near CH3, and while he’s never contended here (two top 45 finishes) he makes a great pivot off the chalk CH3 with a ton of win equity.

Projected Course Score:

Projected course score takes the sum of how many fantasy points players gain on each type of hole on the course. It’s a good way to find out who is a course fit here and statistically should have success. .

Again, JT is in the top spot followed by quite a few of the usual suspects. Interesting to see Zach Johnson here though. I really like him this week in that mid range which is a great spot to build a core. New caddy is a bit concerning but ZJ has shown that he can get it done with anyone on the bag (including Matt Kuchar’s wife).

Big Marc Leishman is on a bit of a heater and gets a course that should fit his eye. I’d like him a bit more in windy conditions and while he typically scores well on these distance holes (which is what essentially makes up projected course score), I have some concern about his driver. He’s known to get wayward off the tee and that means you are in for a long (or short) week. He also should be one of the higher owned players here so a fade makes some sense in GPP.

Having Played Here Before:

As crazy as it may seem, having played here before is a MASSIVE advantage on the field. I’m not saying that you should full fade guys who have never teed it up at this event but check this out.

That’s insane! Also, if you aren’t following Josh Culp on Twitter you should be @futureoffantasy he’s a PGA writer for Rotoballer and and has a fantastic website with a ton of info on each tournament, including quotes from players about the course from previous years. Check it out here — FantasyGolfanac 

So who is teeing it up here for the first time ever? Here’s the list:

Sam Burns, Cameron Champ, Wyndham Clark, Cameron Davis, Julien Etulian, Dylan Fritelli, Kramer Hickok, Rikuya Hoshino, Sungjae Im, Yuki Inamori, Kyle Jones, Peter Jung, Takumi Kanaya, Jim Knous, Hank Lebioda, Kyounghoon Lee, Grayson Murray, Sebastian Munoz, Seth Reeves, Jose de Jesus Rodriguez, Brady Schnell, Sebb Straka, Adam Svensson, Chris Thompson, Chase Wright. 

That’s 25 players that if you wanted to eliminate from your player pool right off the bat I wouldn’t fault you. There is some good value here and I think chasing some of these young guys off the Web.com with virtually no ownership is an interesting play.

Other key stats to consider this week, that I’ll get into in my breakdown of the Chalk Donkeys:

Birdies Gained, Medium Par 4 Scoring, Long Par 4 Scoring, Driving Accuracy %, SG: Approach (last 50), Bermuda putting. 

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Who are this week’s DFS Chalk Donkeys?

In this section, each price range’s (Above 9K, 7.5k-9K, and Below 7.5K) Chalk Donkey will be identified, and a few pivots will be offered. I use DraftKings pricing since that is where I usually play, but their pricing is usually similar to FanDuel and when a player pops as a value on one site but not another I’ll make sure to mention it.

It’s important to remember that just because someone is going to be highly owned, doesn’t mean that they are a bad play, but if we can gain advantage on the field by fading a player owned by 25% or more, typically that’s the right move. There are typically 156 golfers in an event and only 70 and ties make the cut. Essentially you have to look at the ownership of a player and decide if the odds of him missing the cut are equal to or greater than the ownership. If that’s the case then a fade is typically the right play.

And now, here my friends, are this weeks’ Chalk Donkeys:

Above 9K Chalk

Justin Thomas: DK $11,400/FD $12,300

Projected GPP ownership: 22%-28% 

JT is likely going to be the highest owned player on the board this week and rightfully so, he’s got great course history here, (he shot a 59 in the first round in 2017) and his current form is fantastic as well. At the ownership and price though, he basically needs a top 5 finish to pay off value.

Thomas’ results here are 14th, 1st, MC, and 6th. So what happened in the MC in 2016 that didn’t happen during the other years where he was able to have top twenty finishes? Two things…he putted poorly and he didn’t hit near as many greens in regulation. Comparing 2016 to 2018 (2017 was an outlier where he just went nuts and torched the field)

In 2016, he hit 50% of the fairways, 63% of the greens and had 60 putts in his two rounds. In 2018 he hit 60% of the fairways and  69% of the greens and had 55 putts through the first 2 rounds.

Essentially he was able to hit more fairways which led to more greens which led to less putts and a lower score. His average distance to the pin in 2016 was 41 feet and in 2018 it was 30, that eleven feet making a huge difference in his scoring.

Basically, if JT isn’t hitting fairways, he’s likely going to be in trouble here. He’s good enough (and strong enough) to play out of the rough and has shown he can do it, but as the chalk play of the slate, I think a fade can be a smart, contrarian GPP play. If you want to play him in cash go right ahead, he should safely make the cut, but at this ownership and price he needs to top 5 here and I think his odds to do that are just as good as some of the other lower owned options around him.

Above 9K Pivot: 

Emiliano Grillo: DK $9200/FD $9900

Projected GPP ownership: Under 10% 

I’m kind of blown away at how low owned Grillo is going to be here, despite being one of the best fantasy scorers in the field. He has poor course history, and this is the first event of the year, but should he really be 2.5x less owned than Charles Howell III? In a vacuum where we don’t know about CH3’s course history would you really take CH3 2.5x more in your lineup than Grillo? I wouldn’t.

Grillo fits the bill for exactly the type of player I want to target this week. Strong tee to green game, avoids big numbers, can putt the lights out when he’s hot and typically loads up on fantasy points.

Over the last nine years, the winner here has gained on average 1.89 strokes putting. While I typically don’t target SG: Putting because of how variant it is, it would make sense to target guys who are good putters here and players who have shown they can heat up. Grillo is a guy who can go nuts with his putter and even though he has struggled over his last ten rounds, he still has three rounds of more than 1.9 strokes gained putting. If he can find a way to string 3-4 rounds together of a solid flat stick he could run away with this.

Grillo is a great pivot off the chalkier plays in that range and someone I will be at least doubling the field up in ownership of.

Other highly owned players (over 15%) Gary Woodland, Jordan Spieth, Marc Leishman 

7.5K – 9K Chalk

Charles Howell III: DK $8900/FD $10,400

Projected GPP Ownership: Over 20% 

CH3 gets a massive price bump of $1800 on DK and $1900 on FD as he returns to a course that he has had massive amounts of success on. In his career he is 17 for 17 in cuts made at the Sony Open has eleven top 25’s and nine top tens.

He’s a fantastic play this week, and one that I will be using in cash games, but I will be underweight in GPP. I think he actually comes in closer to 30% owned regardless of price tag on him and thats enough for me to make a stand in GPP.

As I stated in the write up about Grillo, it comes down to in a vacuum is CH3 a guy you want to own over say Grillo, Abraham Ancer, Zach Johnson, or Matt Kuchar? The answer for me is a resounding, NO. Yes, I believe in course history, and I think that him playing the week before at the Sentry TOC is only going to help him here, but chalk CH3 just sounds like a landmine in gpp regardless of course history here.

Play him in cash, as he will likely be over 50% owned, but if you want to win a GPP I’d be willing to bet that CH3 won’t be in that winning lineup.

7.5K – 9K Pivot:

Grillo is the direct pivot for me off of CH3, along with Abraham Ancer who no one is talking about this week, but I’m going to dive a little deeper in the salary range to find a salary saver that is likely to go underowned as well.

Brian Harman: DK $7900/FD 10,100

Projected GPP Ownership: Under 10% 

Brian Harman is one of my favorite plays this week and will likely be my One and Done choice as well. He enters this tournament off a string of sub-par performances in the fall which is why his ownership is decreased because he has arguably the exact same course history as the popular Charles Howell III (though not as long)

Harman has finishes of T4. T20. T13, t13, t32 in his last five trips here and is clearly comfortable on the Bermudagrass that is similar to what he grew up on.

Harman has one of the biggest splits in the field from his normal SG: Putting to his SG: Putting on Bermuda of an almost .70 improvement. The return to these greens at a course he has had success on should be just what the doctor ordered for Harman who ended the year on a bit of a struggle, which is actually fairly typical for him as he tends to run out of gas in the fall after starting the year hot.

While I’m fading course history with CH3 and his chalk ownership I’m banking on it with the low owned Harman this week.

Other highly owned players (over 15%) Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire 

Check out my Preview Article for my full betting card!

–> UpNorth’s PGA Preview – Sony Open <–

Below 7.5K

There isn’t any real chalk below 7.5K this week outside of Stewart Cink, Ollie Schneiderjans, and Sam Ryder all looking like they will be owned around 10%. So lets look for a real dart throw that could win you a GPP.

Brice Garnett: DK $7000/FD $9100

Projected GPP Ownership: Under 5% 

If you’ve read this article long enough you know that I love me some Brice Garnett and he has won us a bunch of money in showdowns because of his great iron play. The issue with Garnett is that he can never putt and that holds him back most weeks.

Garnett has been playing some excellent golf lately, including a fantastic finish at the Mayakoba Classic of 5th place. If you remember, the Mayakoba is a great corollary course to Waialae and should indicate players who can have success here. Garnett has struggled in his three times at this course but has arguably never been playing better than he is right now. An MC at the Shriners is his only MC going all the back to the Northern Trust earlier last year.

And that putter that has eluded him or hurt him last year, is now starting to come around, check out his last 10 rounds of SG: Putting.

Not too bad, with two excellent rounds of 2.3 strokes gained on the greens. This bodes well for him, and so does his top 20 performance last week at Kapalua. 6 of the last 7 winners here have played the week before the Tournament of Champions. I’m not saying Garnett’s going to win but it’s a good sign.

He’s a great GPP play and one you can use to differentiate yourself if you are using chalk plays like Justin Thomas, Marc Leishman, and Charles Howell III. 

GPP Core:

Here are the core players that I will be using to make my GPP teams this week. Obviously they won’t be the only players I use but it can give you an idea of who I’m on.

Bryson DeChambeau 

Jordan Spieth 

Emiliano Grillo 

Kevin Kisner

Abraham Ancer 

Matt Kuchar 

Brian Harman 

Adam Hadwin 

Chris Kirk 

Sungjae Im

Joel Dahmen 

Ryan Armour 

Brice Garnett 

Keith Mitchell 

Final Thoughts: 

This is the first full-field event of the year, so if you want to go a little nuts I understand, but be smart and make sure at a minimum you are covering your GPP entries with hybrid or cash lineups.

As ownership trends start to finalize this week, I’ll post some updates in my coaching channel and make sure to join in and ask any questions. This is going to be a great week and I can’t wait to see some of those green screens and winning lineups!

Join us in our coaching channels this week and let’s win some money! I’ll be there off and on all week, but will be in helping build lineups from 9:00 to 10:00 PM CST on Wednesday night getting you guys ready to take down some huge GPP’s!

Also, give me a follow on twitter @dfsupnorth as I’ll be posting updates there as well as useful retweets leading up to this weeks event!