You stand alone at dusk, on the 15th green of a quiet golf course somewhere in the American Midwest. This place, and this hole, were chosen for their remoteness—it is the hole that is invisible from outside view, an uphill dogleg left with the green tucked back into the woods, surrounded by towering elms, connected to the rest of the course only by means of an overgrown, root-scarred path. You have been waiting for an hour. The February chill is biting, and you have nothing but a thin windbreaker for protection. You are wondering how long to stay. You are thinking of the notes left at your door in the night, of the tinny whispers from forgotten pay phones, of the clandestine theater leading to this moment. Have you been a fool?
Minutes pass, and now the sun is just a rumor above the treetops. You check your watch one last time, and you decide to leave. Even fools have their limits. But the moment your back is turned, you hear a cough. You spin—too eager, but who could blame you?—and standing no more than 10 feet away is a man in a black double-breasted overcoat, his face invisible beneath a checkered flat cap. You did not hear him come, though the woods are strewn with brittle leaves. You hear the promised words:
“Why does the nighthawk scream at dawn?”
You take a deep breath. There will be no second chance. You collect yourself just in time.
“It knows the anguish of the waking world.”
Satisfied with your response, the overcoat opens. A battered leather briefcase emerges, is set delicately on the path. The man turns without a word and leaves. Your prize awaits.
You cannot quite make it home—on the interminable drive, your curiosity gets the better of you, and you pull over to the shoulder. The four numbers from the encrypted email work—the briefcase lock springs open, and in your hands are the secrets you've been waiting for: The secrets of the perfect PGA Tour fantasy league. You hold the first page up to the dome light and read the words from the man whose name you shall never know …
To whom it concerns,
In one way, my new friend, what I’m about to tell you seems even to me like an act of betrayal on par with the treasonous release of state secrets. By revealing the inner workings of the world’s best PGA Tour fantasy league to the unknowing, as I shall do momentarily, I cast myself as golf’s version of Edward Snowden. With one glaring difference—since I am the original brainchild behind the information I’m about to reveal, you may think of me as a greenside Ronald Reagan, hand-delivering nuclear secrets to the Soviets. I hope you understand the risk, and I hope you know the stakes.
We understand, you and I, that golf is the last frontier of fantasy sports. There is a dearth of quality action—the sophistication of the fantasy sports genre, I’m afraid, has eluded the links totally. Before my league began, five years ago, a fellow like me would be forced to join some simpleton mainstream sports site and pick a handful of golfers each week irrespective of teams. Or, God forbid, wait for the majors to arrive, only to participate in some tiered world ranking nonsense. It was a barren desert, a fantasy Siberia bereft of strategy or satisfaction, and it needed a prophet.
But I am not here to sing my own praises. Let us get to the heart of the matter—against the wishes of the 23 comrades who share in my endeavor, my desire is for our league to make its way from the furtive depths to the clean, bracing air of the wider world. I am no longer interested in the smug superiority of the shadowy cabal. I wish now to slake the thirst of the common fan. If this makes of me a traitor, then so be it—I shall be judged anon.
My resolve is firm. The league must spread. And so, my brother in treachery, here is how the damn thing is done.
1. There must be distinct teams, and so you will hold an initial draft. In my league, there are 12 teams, each with two managers. There are 10 rounds in the draft, thus 120 players drafted. Our league now has keepers and a draft lottery, but for the first year you will only need a randomized draft order.
2. Each week, every team will choose a maximum of seven players from their team for the starting lineup. A smaller number is allowed, and often necessary. Only the top four performers will count for that week’s score. If a team doesn’t have four players make the weekend cut, a penalty will be assessed for each: The worst score of any player who did make the cut, plus five strokes. (The Made Cut-Didn’t Finish penalty is +3.)
3. At the end of each week’s tournament, a team will earn points based on its finish. For a normal PGA Tour event, the points will go from 12 (first place) to 1 (last place). For the Players Championship, it will go from 24 points (first place) to 2 points (last place). For a WGC event, 18 points to 1.5. And for a major, 36 points to a mere 3. Each week, there will also be a bonus for a team win—either 2 points (regular event), 3 points (WGC), 4 points (Players) or 6 points (major). The same bonus applies to a team starting any individual player who wins an event. If a player finishes in the top three, the bonus is half the points.
By revealing the inner workings of the world’s best PGA Tour fantasy league to the unknowing, as I shall do momentarily, I cast myself as golf’s version of Edward Snowden.
4. Points accumulate throughout the season, and the team with the most points at the end is declared the champion.
5. But my God, dear boy, there is so much more—the league is complex, yes, but show me something beautiful that is not also intricate! There are bench spots! There is a waiver wire! There are trades! There are special rules for special events like the WGC-Match Play! There are playoffs, and a season-long Cup competition held at minor events to mimic European soccer domestic leagues! There is a trophy, a Scottish quaich christened in the waters of the Swilcan Burn on the road hole at St. Andrews! You must be an obsessive, don’t you see, a true fanatic surrounded by the same! But if you can rise to the challenge, then I promise you, GLORY AWAITS!
You must read the attached document, pilfered at great personal risk from league headquarters, which lays the league rules out to the very last detail.
6. Oh yes—I highly recommend you find someone like Matt Hewitt, the league oracle who recognized the impossibility of keeping score by hand and invented an automated spreadsheet that is, truly, a thing of beauty—and saved us, surely, from instant failure. I do pretend to understand his dark arts (we call him Cellraiser, for his true name is never spoken aloud) but he tells me the whole operation, from leader boards to rosters to draft, is managed through a network of Google Sheets with access shared across league members, and then mapped to a live, automatically updated leader board by html import. All of it embedded, all of it visible. Truly a marvel.
Beyond Mr. Hewitt, I cannot tell you the name of our league members, or the team names, for reasons of safety. (And, frankly, because those team names are unprintable in mixed company.)
Lastly, I know I come to you a trifle late. Our season runs from the Phoenix Open to the Wyndham, with playoffs held over the first three events of the FedEx Cup series. You have already missed that window, but fret not—if you get a league up and running by the Honda Classic next week, you will have a 25-week regular season, and the format works for anything more than 20. There is time yet!
So go on, my son. The die is cast, the secret is out. Spread the joy to the four corners of our country, from Pebble Beach to Scottsdale to Sawgrass to Kennebunkport, for all I care. The league is for the people, and for the fans, and for the everlasting glory of our beloved sport!
I am no hero, and I am no crook. I am but a conduit by which the fantasy golf illuminati yield up their secrets to the forces of evolution. Enjoy, please. For yourself and for me.
By the time you read this letter, I will have faced my fate. When the first secret is spilled, it is not long before the rest follow. I surrender to the justice that awaits me, and thus my joy shall only live on with you, and all those you teach.
In perpetuity, one hopes, I remain yours,
Nearly breathless, you set the pages down. You have waited so long, toiling in the mediocre fantasy golf leagues, dreaming of a day like this. The future stretches out before you, bright and promising where yesterday you could see only gloom. The dome light goes off, the engine comes on. You are back on the road. It is time to go home.