In January, 2015 I entered the European Tour Fantasy Race To Dubai game for the first time. This is the story of my season.
I’d previously been a rather flightly and fairweather gamer. If things weren’t going my way, I’d quickly lose interest and forget to enter my team a lot of the time.
However, getting the chance to join ‘Playing The Tips’ and publishing my selections each week on Rotoworld was just the sort of enforced discipline I needed.
Bizarrely, I’d once finished in the top 200 of a Fantasy Basketball League (30,000 players) despite knowing very little about the game. I guess I was just good at looking at schedules and seeing how many times each team were playing that week. However, it did suggest that there might just be a competent fantasy manager in me waiting to come out.
How to play
Pick 10 golfers each week. Players accumulate points based on Race to Dubai points earned in each tournament. Select one Star player whose weekly points are doubled. Unlimited team changes and unlimited star player changes are available each week.
Early views on the game
Compared to other Fantasy games, it seemed to be, well, a little basic. Lacking in subtlety you might say. Surely everyone would just pick the 10 shortest players in the betting and therefore there would be limited scope to use skill and separate yourself from the masses. As the year went on, I came to appreciate the nuances. Okay, the first five, six or even seven picks might be no-brainers, but those final three or four could often be key. Shane Lowry in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was the classic example in 2015 and it worked in my favour. Other early thoughts? There’s a massive discrepancy between purses in the majors/WGCs and the run-of-the-mill events so, ultimately, there would be a number of make-or-break weeks. Getting the star man right in those events was huge.
The 2015 European Tour schedule
(Listed below are the 43 events which counted for the 2015 game. I list my star player (whose points were doubled) and where he finished, the winner of the tournament and whether I picked him or not and finally my position at the end of the event)
Mar 17: Madeira Islands – Cancelled
May 12: Open de Espana Star: Pablo Larrazabal (T49); Winner: James Morrison (NO); Pos: 4,696
May 26: Irish Open Star: Shane Lowry (T43); Winner: Soren Kjeldsen (NO); Pos: 4,905
Jun 23: BMW International Open Star: Henrik Stenson (2nd); Winner: Pablo Larrazabal (NO); Pos: 5,345
Aug 18: Made In Denmark Star: Soren Kjeldsen (T2); Winner: David Horsey (NO); Pos: 1,412
Sep 29: Alfred Dunhill Links Star: Martin Kaymer (T56); Winner: Thorbjorn Olesen (NO); Pos: 1,627
My 2015 Fantasy Race to Dubai stats
864 (from a field of approximately 22,000)
Times I picked the winner of the event
N/A means the event was won by a player not available to pick; i.e. not a European Tour member such as Jordan Spieth.
Weeks when position improved: 22
Weeks when position dropped: 20
Story of the season
As my worst position was Week 1 and my best position was at the very end, it suggests I did a good job of working the game out along the way.
There were the usual peaks and troughs along the way, though, and I made plenty of mistakes.
After riding Rory in Dubai and making steady progress after that, a poor WGC-Cadillac and unforgivable decision to leave out (never mind make star player) George Coetzee in the Tshwane sent me spinning down to 4,804th going into The Masters.
Thankfully, at Augusta National I made my best decision of the year, going against the flow by opting for Justin Rose for star player ahead of McIlroy. Rose came second, I finished 21st on the week and jumped 3,204 spots to a then high watermark of 1,600th.
I improved it to 1,294th after getting winner Kiradech Aphibarnrat on board at the Shenzhen International in China but then came a serious downturn.
The WGC-Match Play is a huge potential banana skin and I fell on my face big-time as star pick Graeme McDowell went out in the group stage. To add insult to injury, Rory won the hefty first-prize, doubling the points for all those who had him as star player. For me, a drop of over 2,000 places to 4,107th.
A series of poor star player choices and performances left me gradually slipping backward and I bottomed out at 5,647th after star pick Rose could only manage T27 in the US Open at Chambers Bay.
Despite another little dip at The Open Championship (Henrik Stenson only T40th), I gradually got going in the right direction again and made another big leap at the WGC-Bridgestone thanks to that man Rose again (T3) but mostly due to including surprise winner Shane Lowry in my 10 picks.
I backed that big week up with another at the PGA Championship thanks to a slightly left-field (although logical at the time given his form) selection of Brooks Koepka (T5) as star player at the PGA Championship.
The importance of the big events can’t be stressed enough and getting it pretty much right over this fortnight elevated me from 4,270th to 1,599th in the space of two weeks.
My position stayed fairly steady after that – a consequence of some solid picks along with the fact that movement at that stage of the season is less volatile with so much cash having already been banked.
The aim now was to crack the top 1,000 and to do so I’d need to come up with the goods during the big-money, four-tournament Final Series.
Despite leaving Victor Dubuisson out in Turkey (doh!), I moved up 70 spots in Turkey, and another 192 after the HSBC-Champions to hit a season-high of 1,170th.
At last, my leaderboard position contained just three digits as I moved up to 932nd (Rose T7 as star player) after the penultimate event, the BMW Open in China, and then I debated long and hard about who I should make star player for the concluding DP Word Tour Championship in Dubai.
I eventually went with Rose again (perhaps out of loyalty after his previous favors?) instead of McIlroy so I presumed I’d blown it as Rory took victory, thus doubling his points for all those who had picked him as star player.
Thankfully, I’d included Andy Sullivan in my team ahead of some of the bigger names and his significant earnings for second place helped me end on a season-high peak of 864th.
On a very basic level, I had more good weeks than bad (22 v 20). More importantly, in the events with the 11 biggest purses (4 x majors, 3 x WGCs, 4 x Final Series), I made leaderboard climbs in seven of them. They were The Masters (+3,204), WGC-Bridgestone (+2,129), PGA Championship (+542), Turkish Airlines Open (+70), WGC-HSBC Champions (+192), BMW Masters (+238) and DP World Tour Championship (+68). The four losing weeks in the stellar events came at the WGC-Cadillac (-1,237), WGC-Match Play (-2,132), US Open (-992) and Open Championship (-171). Add up all the positives and minuses and I advanced an aggregate of +1911 spots over these 11 events. That’s okay but there is room for improvement.
My use of the the ‘Star player’. After the Mauritius Open, I wrote, “Why do I not just pick the betting favorite as my star man every week? It would have doubled my points on both McIlroy and Coetzee in the last fortnight.” And in Hong Kong… “The last-minute decision to get cute and replace Rose as star player with Jaidee backfired. My bad. A drop of 165 spots.” Obviously, there are times when it pays to go against the flow but I over-egged the desire to be contrary, especially early in the season. Overall my Star player choices weren’t good enough. Check this run from The Masters to The U.S. Open: Byeong-Hun An (WD), Tommy Fleetwood (MC), Graeme McDowell (T52), Kevin Phelan (T44), Pablo Larrazabal (T49), Justin Rose (T38), Shane Lowry (T43), Henrik Stenson (T13), Bernd Wiesberger (MC). Also, given that I had 10 picks, selecting the winner of the tournament just 16 times in 43 events seems somewhat poor although the real figure is 46% (16/35) as eight events were won by players that were not European Tour members and thus not able to be picked. Then again, I’m flying in the dark a bit. Perhaps 46% was okay.
I”ll let you into a little secret. Ahead of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, due to a mixture of incompetence and bad planning, I only just managed to get my team entered before the midnight deadline. But in the last-gasp, frenetic mouse-clicking rush at 11.53pm, I selected the wrong Molinari! A schoolboy error. Typically, Edoardo withdrew injured while Francesco threatened to win the tournament and scoop the 833,330 Euro jackpot. Thankfully for me, he slipped back to fifth so the damage was limited. I guess all fantasy managers live in the real world and there are numerous cases of forgetfulness or being a dumb-ass. To be honest, I’m quite pleased that this was the only blot on my copybook.
Areas to improve
The Star Player
With his earnings doubled, it’s a key selection each week. If he doesn’t crack the top 20, you’ve basically wasted him. Here’s how I did with my 43 picks:
Win: 1 (2%)
2nd: 4 (9%)
3rd: 1 (2%)
4th: 1 (2%)
5th: 2 (5%)
6th-10th: 6 (14%)
11th-20th: 5 (12%)
21st or worse: 23 (54%)
Looking at the above, I didn’t make my Star player count nearly often enough. Over 50% finished outside the top 20. Not good. However, with a T2, T3, T5, T7, T11 and T13 in the events with the 11 biggest purses, my percentages were better when it counted.
Don’t think betting
My background is betting and it’s hard to shake off the idea of picking outsiders and basing decisions on the odds and perceived value. It took me a long time to realise that a fancied player finishing T14 is exactly the same as an unknown/fringe player finishing T14. For one it’s slightly disappointing, for the other it’s rather creditable but in terms of points awarded it’s exactly the same. Too often I went with the outsider to try and be different and gain a march on the field as most wouldn’t have picked him. This will work sometimes but overall, in the format of this particular game, you are simply lessening your chances of bagging big points if you leave the fancied players out.
The five players thank banked me most points were:
Rory McIlroy 5,484,459
Justin Rose 4,153,952
Shane Lowry 2,252,604
Branden Grace 2,131,165
Patrick Reed 1,722,804
Despite the above, I still felt I underused Rory. I didn’t have him as Star player for either the WGC-Match Play or the DP World Tour Championship (he won both) so missed out on some huge points. Perhaps a simple rule is this: Make Rory McIlroy star player every time he’s available. That certainly has to apply any time he tees it up in the United Arab Emirates where his record in the last 20 events held there now reads: 1-1-2-2-9-2-5-MC-1-5-2-11-10-2-5-6-3-3-1-5.
I can’t quite suss whether I did well on my debut season or not.
There could easily be a situation next year when I’m languishing in 8,373rd after the final major and I’ll look back to 2015 and its 864th and think that they were halcyon days.
Then again, for the amount of effort I put in, it’s surely not too hard to beat a lot of gamers who are playing this game on a more casual level.
Anyone want to lay me odds on whether I can make the top 500 this time?