This is a Father's Day tale of two Texas dads, who endured a million-dollar sweat that was decided by 1.5 points on the 18th green of the U.S. Open.
The winner of DraftKings' U.S. Open Millionaire Maker was a newbie, who was ragged on by buddies for using his real name as the screen name on his lone entry. "Carlbassewitz" outlasted the respected daily fantasy pro known as "headchopper," who had 50 finely tuned entries. He took a $900,000 hit when Dustin Johnson failed to get home in two from 12 feet, handing Jordan Spieth the title and making Carl Bassewitz, a 50-year-old sports marketer from Houston, a millionaire.
His first time playing in a money game on DraftKings, Bassewitz relied on his general knowledge as an avid PGA Tour fan to select his six-golfer lineup. He chose Spieth, "because he's Spieth." Patrick Reed made the team, in part because of his Texas roots. He had followed Louis Oosthuizen at the Masters and liked his swing. Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner and Tony Finau rounded out a lineup that came just a few hundred dollars under the salary cap.
"I've found in these things that if you overthink it, you don't do as well," Bassewitz said in a Tuesday phone interview. "You have to go with your initial gut."
Meanwhile, "headchopper," aka 41-year-old David Kaplen from San Antonio, meticulously went through the same process that's helped him win five- and six-figure payouts playing daily fantasy. He prepped his spreadsheets, adding heavy emphasis on driving accuracy for lengthy Chambers Bay. He pinpointed golfers he wanted to target, like Oosthuizen, and ones he wanted to avoid, like Phil Mickelson. He looked at how many golfers were being used in competing lineups.
"Dustin Johnson was on 20 percent of my teams. That's a pretty heavy number," Kaplen told ESPN Chalk. "He was on only 11 percent of other teams [in the field]. So I had a lot more Dustin Johnson than the average guy out there. Also, Louis Oosthizen was only a 3 percent guy. I had him on several teams. Branden Grace I had on several teams and he was only a 3 percent guy with the rest of the field. Then I looked at a guy like Phil Mickelson. I intentionally tried to cut down on him. When I looked, the rest of the field had him at 26 percent. That was a huge number for me."
Initially Kaplen planned on using only the 27 entries he won playing $5 satellite tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open. But a buddy called him and persuaded him to add more teams. When he finalized his 50 lineups Wednesday night, Johnson was on 20 percent of his teams, a heavy share for any player. Kaplen's top lineup featured Johnson, Grace, Oosthuizen, Reed, Billy Horschel and Brooks Koepka. Kaplen lost to Bassewitz's lone entry 471-469.5.
"Usually I don't end up doing that many," Kaplen said. "That's pretty excessive for me."
The first three days of the tournament were up and down for Bassewitz and Kaplen. Neither had overly high expectations for Sunday and spent the early part of the day with friends and family. When Bassewitz checked the scoreboard at brunch, he was in 750th place. By the time he positioned himself in front of the TV in his girlfriend's kitchen, the leaders were on the back nine. The couple was enjoying a dinner of grilled shrimp and scallops and a few Tito's vodka and sodas, when Bassewitz's phone started blowing up. He was moving up the leaderboard. So was Kaplen.
With the kids camping with the grandparents, Kaplen's wife Lori treated him to a Father's Day movie and dinner. They saw "Entourage" and ate at Logan's Steakhouse. Lori had chicken fried steak, while Kaplen went with the ribs.
There were 10 holes left when they got back to the house. Kaplen took his normal position on the recliner, his phone and iPad by his side. He knew he was in the mix when he started getting a flurry of mentions on his Twitter account. Things didn't get serious, however, until his fellow elite daily fantasy players started texting him.
"We're all kind of used to having a fair level of success with these things," Kaplen said. "So we don't really text each other with that kind of stuff. When I started to get text messages from some guys, that's when I knew it was pretty serious."
Kaplen began running into the other room about every 10 minutes to look at the leaderboard on his desktop computer. He prefers the DraftKings leaderboard on the desktop over the mobile app because it doesn't show how much money he is winning at that point of the tournament.
"I don't like to know that I'm winning a million dollars, because then you're like, 'Oh, my god,'" Kaplen explained.
Spieth made birdie on No. 16 to open up a three-shot lead, only to give it away with a double-bogey on 17. He was tied for the lead with Johnson and Oosthuizen at 4-under heading to No. 18. Spieth bounced back on 18, capitalizing on a brilliant 3-wood approach with a two-putt birdie to go one up.
Johnson, in the final group, blistered his drive on 18 and followed it with a 6-iron to 12 feet. At this point, with Johnson looking at eagle, Bassewitz was clinging to a slim lead over Kaplen. If Johnson made his eagle or birdie putt, Kaplen would have secured the $1 million.
Both Kaplen and Bassewitz were standing up when Johnson lined up his first putt. In San Antonio, Kaplen's wife was in the other room, working on the computer. She didn't know what was going down.
"In this kind of a situation, I don't like to tell my family about it," Kaplen said. "There's no reason for them to get stressed out about it."
Bassewitz told his girlfriend he was in contention but didn't think she really believed it.
Johnson knocked his first putt a few feet past the cup, leaving him with a one putt to force a playoff and secure first place for Kaplen. When Johnson's birdie attempt scooted past the hole, Bassewitz instantly became a millionaire.
"He missed it, and my phone started to blow up," Bassewitz said. "I didn't think it was real. Then, in about 45 minutes, one of the executives from DraftKings reached out and confirmed it. That was pretty cool. I was up until about 3 in the morning, texting to people. [I had] four shots of Tito's vodka so I could sleep a few hours, and it's been [a] dream the past day and a half."
Kaplen also had trouble sleeping, but was in positive spirits by Monday.
"You're really disappointed at first. It was right there," Kaplen said. "I've been in this game for quite a while and have been in this position and on several occasions. I've had a good opportunity to win a million dollars before, whether at a live event in Las Vegas or the Bahamas through DFS. I've been in a good spot before and never got there. Watching that one, that was the closest I've ever been. The first night is a little uneasy. Out of almost 144,000 teams, I had the second-best team -- $100,000 -- there's no crying about that. I'm totally happy about that."
So is Bassewitz, who plans to buy his 90-year-old mother in-home care and make a couple of donations to charity with his winnings. "I'm not a car guy or a ticket guy," said Bassewitz, a 17 handicapper on the golf course. "Maybe the only thing on the bucket list would be [a] trip to Bandon Dunes with eight of my golfing buddies."