I’m a white guy, I’m 34, and I’m not anywhere near the athlete I used to be. This puts me smack-dab in the middle of the expected demographics for the two activities that take up the overwhelming majority of my brainspace — fantasy football and golf. This week, those two interests will collide, as I’ll be working on my fantasy football content and lineups while simultaneously watching The Masters Tournament, which is being played in November for the first — and hopefully last — time.
I’m also grinding away to build my fantasy golf lineups. It’s my second-favorite sport for fantasy after football — the four-round sweat is something you can’t replicate anywhere else. I don’t consider myself an expert in that department, but I certainly enjoy playing casually.
I think golf appeals to most of us sports-writer types because it’s actually an activity we can go out and play and relate to what we’re watching on TV. That’s self-evident. I’ll be able to watch next year’s PGA Championship at a course I’ve already played — The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. I won’t ever put on a green jacket, but I can dream of one day shooting a 109 at Augusta National (provided I meet the right people). I can watch as much football as I want, know all the right people, and I know for damn sure I won’t ever be running a sweep at Lambeau Field. In addition to the literal appeal, golf has the metaphorical appeal for us, as we can filter everything we see when watching football or any other sport through the lens of golf. There’s a poetry in the game, in its struggles with internal and external forces, that makes it a very simple analogy for all aspects of life, especially sports.
So for this week’s column, I decided I would combine my two major interests by comparing someone in the Masters field to a fantasy football star (erstwhile or current). If you enjoy golf, I hope you love this column. If you don’t, I hope maybe it gives you some interest in checking out these world-class players with an expectation of what to see.
Comparison: Patrick Mahomes (QB, KC)
This one is pretty simple, though I have to admit that it applies to on-field prowess only — DeChambeau’s “my sh*t don’t stink” personality rankles many, while I don’t think anyone dislikes Mahomes personally. Every week, you see Mahomes out there doing something that shouldn’t be possible (how often have you seen a goddamned underhanded TD pass?). Similarly, DeChambeau has tried to rewrite the rules of golf. He took the PGA Tour’s COVID break to get absolutely jacked up, and he’s been setting distance records off the tee weekly. He’ll be applying his new style to Augusta for the first time this week. And keep in mind, this is a course that had to lengthen itself 20-some years ago because of some guy named Tiger Woods.
DeChambeau’s prowess off the tee makes him the betting favorite (+750) to win the green jacket, and Mahomes’ penchant for the impossible will likely make him the betting favorite to win the Super Bowl until the Chiefs are actually eliminated (indeed, at +333, Kansas City is currently the Super Bowl LV betting favorite).
There are some stark differences here, namely that DeChambeau is more of an architect of his game, boiling it down to a science, while Mahomes is much more of an artist with a natural feel for his craft. Golf fans may root heavily against DeChambeau in the way that football fans root for Mahomes. But though their virtuosity comes from different places, it doesn’t make either any less a virtuoso.
Perhaps the most apt cross-sport comparison for DeChambeau is Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who obsesses about spin rate and other nerdy pitching metrics to gain an edge the way DeChambeau obsesses about club-head speed. And unlike Mahomes, Bauer certainly has plenty of haters given his brazen and extremely online personality.
Comparison: Aaron Rodgers (QB, GB)
When you look at the all-around resume of Rodgers, the fact that he might stake claim to being the greatest QB in Packers history despite following Brett Favre in the role, it’s easy to forget that he’s been to and won just a single Super Bowl. Of course he’ll take that over never winning one a la Dan Marino, but it feels like he should have been a dominant figure like Tom Brady year in and year out.
Like Rodgers, “DJ” has the resume of a demigod, a player who has been ranked as the World No. 1 six different times, including right now. He’s behind only Bryson DeChambeau on betting odds to win the tournament (+900). But in his storied career, Johnson has just one major championship, the 2016 US Open at Oakmont.
Noted for his length off the tee, Johnson has now been surpassed in that department by guys like DeChambeau, Rory McIlroy, and Matthew Wolff, though he’s still exceptionally good in that department. Likewise, Rodgers’ stupid-good improvisational skills and downfield accuracy have been seemingly made “less special” by the arrival of Patrick Mahomes on the scene.
Still, Rodgers has taken the time this year to remind us just how much of an all-time great he is, as he pursues his second Super Bowl title. Johnson, fresh off winning the FedEx Cup (the PGA’s playoff, though it doesn’t carry the gravitas that a major championship carries), is looking to do the same.
Comparison: Odell Beckham (WR, Cle)
Rahm’s week has already been defined by a spectacular highlight — skipping the ball across the Water on No. 16 at Augusta for a hole-in-one during Tuesday’s practice round. Rahm, right now, is at the height of his powers, like Beckham was when he made his famous one-handed catch.
The hope for Rahm, who like Beckham has struggled with hot-headedness, is able to channel all his otherworldly ability into multiple major championships, of which he currently has zero. He’s 26 (today, actually!), and it seems all but certain that he has many titles in his future. If he keeps his head on straight and stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be an all-time great.
But five years ago, we’d have said the same about Beckham.
Comparison: Russell Wilson (QB, Sea)
Rory has four major championships and is generally regarded as one of the greatest players to ever play the game, as he deserves to be. But he hasn’t yet broken through with the championship that would give him the career Grand Slam — The Masters.
It appears likely this will be the year that Wilson finally gets his first MVP vote (you read that right… he’s never received a vote), and that trophy might be the only thing separating Wilson from the Peyton Manning and Tom Brady class of QB when his career is all said and done. Both McIlroy and Wilson have unimpeachable legacies at this stage, but there’s still something missing from the mantle that nags at them.
Comparison: Carson Wentz (QB, Phi)
There was a moment just a few years ago when Spieth seemed destined to be an all-time great. Playing with a significant lead in the 2016 Masters, gunning for his second consecutive green jacket, Spieth put two balls into the water on the 12th hole, opening the door for little known Danny Willett to capture the championship (side note: I cashed a 50-to-1 ticket on Willet that day…).
Though Spieth has had successes since that famous collapse, he’s mostly become a guy who merely shows flashes of his one-great form, and it seems like there’s a mental block preventing him from reaching his heights again.
Wentz, meanwhile, seems to have gotten over his physical ailments, but this year he has an extreme stubbornness to his game that’s resulted in his turning the ball over at a prodigious rate. His games this year have often featured a spectacular play followed by an impossibly dumb one, or vice versa. He’s trying to do too much and is clearly fighting himself.
Remember this when you see Spieth drain a 35-foot birdie putt this week, only to hook his next drive two fairways over on the subsequent hole.
The young 2020 PGA Champion, Morikawa isn’t winning with the prodigious power of the newer generation of golfers (97th in driving distance in 2020), but rather an accuracy with the irons and putter that would make him a perfect fit generations ago.
Henry is the most “old-school” player in the NFL, the power-back foundation of an offense, with a style that was en vogue 30 years ago. Cook might be the more apt comparison — he’s young, exciting, and a guy who can win you a week for fantasy by yourself. Like Henry, though, he’s the anchor of an offense that probably shouldn’t work the way it does in the modern NFL.
Koepka’s brand of meatheaded power golf propelled him to some of the greatest golf seasons we’ve ever seen — he won back-to-back US Opens in 2017 and 2018, and back-to-back PGA Championships in 2018 and 2019. His power was what inspired Bryson DeChambeau to completely reinvent his body during the PGA Tour’s COVID pause.
Of course, distilling Koepka’s top-line golf game down to merely “power” would be a disservice to the other areas in which he excels, and that’s why Kittle and Gronk are good comparisons for him — guys that big shouldn’t move the way they do, and they shouldn’t have the nuance of route-running and technique that they do. It’s not fair that someone with Koepka’s power also has ridiculous touch on the greens.
Unfortunately for Koepka, a series of injuries — wrist, knee, hip — have completely derailed his 2020 season. In other words, he had a “Super Bowl Hangover” from his 2018 and 2019 seasons. Let’s hope Kittle’s ceiling, which is that of Gronk pre-injury, isn’t hurt by various ailments, like the ankle injury that is likely to end his 2020 season. We need him to come back strong in 2021.
Comparison: Clyde Edwards-Helaire (RB, KC)
Matsuyama is one of the best players in the world, an all-around titan who strikes the ball as well as anyone on the planet. There’s just one problem — actually scoring. It’s possible Matsuyama would already have a major championship or two to his name if he could put the ball in the damn hole — he ranked 170th of 193 qualifying players on the PGA Tour last year in strokes gained putting, whereas he was 5th in strokes gained approaching the green.
In other words, “Deki” will get you to the red zone, but he won’t get you in the end zone. Currently, CEH is 9th in total fantasy points among RBs, while scoring just 3 TD on the year. The eight players in front of him are averaging 7.75 TDs this season. Give CEH that TD average, and he’s 3rd among RBs in total fantasy points.
Comparison: Tyler Boyd (WR, Cin)
Fantasy golf enthusiasts know well the appeal of Kuchar, who makes cuts at a prodigious rate but rarely threatens to actually win a tournament. This high-floor play has earned him the nickname of “Cash Game Kooch,” and I liken that to putting someone like Boyd into your lineup every week, with the acknowledgment that he might not go nuts, but is always a good bet for at least 5 catches.
Comparison: Matthew Stafford (QB, Det)
Once the hotshot prodigy on Tour, Fowler has become notorious for his inability to finish a big tournament. Fowler has finished 2nd in three majors — including the 2018 Masters — and 3rd in another, plus four more top-5 finishes. At the age of 25, he finished top-5 in all four major events in 2014. He’s now 32 (in December), with zero major championships.
Stafford, the former #1 overall pick, has titanic numbers and absurd talent. He holds the NFL record for completions and pass attempts in a season, which he did at the age of 24. He’s now 32, with zero playoff wins.
Comparison: Miles Sanders (RB, Phi)
Given he’s missed time with hamstring and knee problems already this year, Sanders is going to have a hard time earning trust back from the fantasy community because he’s struggled to stay on the field, but we know what kind of upside he has when he plays.
Playing Day — a one-time major champion — in DFS is always risky, because he has a balky back that has caused him to withdraw early from a number of tournaments. But when he can put a full tournament together, it’s always a good bet that he’s going to be toward the top of the leaderboard.
Comparison: Alvin Kamara (RB, NO)
Thomas might be the best all-around player in the world, but he isn’t as “big-name” as Bryson DeChambeau or Dustin Johnson, so he might not be getting any MVP votes. But like Kamara, fantasy players know how valuable his all-around game is. And Thomas’ confidence is always good for a hell of a quote.
Comparison: Drew Brees (QB, NO)
An elder statesman for the game who is adored by fans but annoys his peers, Mickelson has lost a lot of the pure ability that made him an all-time great, but his short game is still spectacular, and no one can think his way around a golf hole the way he can. Augusta has always been a course favorable to those who know how to play it, and three-time Masters champ Mickelson has the advantage on everyone in this field with the exception of Tiger Woods.
Brees could run for mayor of New Orleans, but he has had some problems relating to his younger peers, as well. His short game is basically all he has left at this point — his 5.5 aDOT on throws is almost a full yard behind the next lowest starting QB. But though he’s older with dwindling skills, it still won’t be surprising to see him in contention for the Lombardi Trophy given his short accuracy and smarts.
And when both guys retire, you’ll see them in broadcast booths.
Comparison: Philip Rivers (QB, Ind)
A bigmouth Southerner with a love for his Lord and on a track for the Hall of Fame, Watson, like Rivers, can do some spectacular things but is prone to blowups in the worst spots.
Comparison: Tom Brady (QB, TB)
C’mon, you knew you weren’t making it out of this article without this comparison. Both certifiable GOATs, Brady is trying to win a title sans Bill Belichick the year after Woods completed one of the most unbelievable stories in sports history — his redemptive victory at the 2019 Masters.
A lot of the pocks on Tiger’s legacy are of his own doing, much the same as Brady. He’s dealt with more physical discomfort than Brady (in that regard, he’s more like 2015 Peyton Manning). He’s clearly lost his fastball, as he has to think his way around a course much more than he used to, when his sheer power and natural talent blew everyone else away. So the victory at Augusta last year was his, and it’s possible it’s the sweetest of all for him.
Brady doesn’t need another Super Bowl ring to be considered the best ever, but if he wins one without Belichick, it might be the sweetest of all.