The PGA TOUR will put a bow on the Florida Swing this week at the Valspar Championship.
They don’t have designated status this year, which means a drop in field strength compared to some of the recent events. Still, there are some big names making the trip, most notably Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and back-to-back champion Sam Burns.
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is hosting this week. They have played here since the inaugural edition in 2000.
This par 71 is played at 7,340 yards. At first glance, it seems like a reasonable length, but the layout of the course makes the game a bit longer.
Golfers are encouraged to hit less than a driver on many of the par 4s, which creates many mid-iron and long-iron approaches. As Scott Stallings said last year, “You have to be a good player in the middle of the bag. Lots of 175, 190, 200-yard shots.”
Looking at last year’s event, only 31 percent of approach shots originated from within 150 yards. It is not a suitable field for wedges.
Water comes into play for as many as nine holes, which sounds like a lot, but it’s a huge relief compared to recent events at TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, and PGA National. One way to look at the impact of water is the large number ratio. The course encounters double bogey or worse on 1.8% of the holes at Innisbrook, while that rate sits at around 2.9% when looking at the average of the other three Florida spots.
Tree lines and doglegs encourage golfers to shape their shots. Smart hitting is important here because there are very few birdie opportunities to make up for silly short-sided mistakes.
Looking at the turf, it’s another week of overseeding conditions. The greens are relatively small at 5,822 square feet, while also being steeply sloped as you’d imagine from a classic-looking layout.
Putting aside last year, this is one of the toughest scoring environments they face all year, outside of the big leagues.
Looking at some previous quotes, let’s try to break down the course to see how it works.
Justin Thomas on 2022: “If you’re not playing well and you don’t drive well, it’s a tough golf course. It’s very similar to Sawgrass or Riviera to me, where you put the ball in play or at least put it on the right side of the tee holes I feel like you can do some damage.
Bubba Watson on 2019: “I hit a lot of irons off the tees just to put the ball in play. Even if it got a lot more relaxed, I trusted my iron game to hit some of the greens and that’s really what I did.”
Adam Hadwin on 2022: “It’s a bit similar to the courses I grew up on, like through the trees. You have to work the golf ball both ways. You have to be in position off the tee, otherwise you get blocked in certain holes”.
A position-based course with an emphasis on patience.
Using historical data, we can see the top and bottom performance at this week’s host course and compare it to all courses played on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:
TPC San Antonio
TPC River Highlands
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 75 degrees. Winds 5-10 MPH, gusting to 20 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Winds 12-18 MPH, gusting to 30 MPH.
It seems relatively calm to start the week, but the wind and rain come as the week progresses.
golfers to watch
There is something to be said for a course that “fits a golfer’s eye” and Thomas says this one fits that box for him. “I’ve loved it since I’ve played the Junior tournaments here. And just, yeah, it’s a place where I feel like I can get away with it very well and I feel like every time I do I can shoot 7, 8, 9 under, although it can be quite difficult. He has spun in the top 20 on four of five trips and missed the cut on the other. That includes a T3 last year, but he’s still looking for his first win at the Copperhead course.
He is the back-to-back champion at Innisbrook Resort. He’s been a mixed bag for Burns in the lead up, earning a couple of top 15s before losing back-to-back cuts and then something in between last week on THE PLAYERS (T35). He has been T30 or better after 11 of his 12 career rounds at the Copperhead course.
Quick starts are the norm for Bradley on the Copperhead field. This is the site of his infamous lead in the first round of the botched debacle, but he has exacted his revenge on return trips. In fact, Bradley has been T6 or better after round one of five of his last six starts here, including another first-round lead in the 2021 edition. He went on to post a second-place finish that week and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays his way back. into contention on a difficult track.
The Canadian posted four rounds under par last week, but didn’t clock in under enough to put him in a real fight. That steady, boring golf works well at Innisbrook, though, and he’s shown it in the past with a win and two other top-15 finishes in his last five tries.
He has been inside the top 40 in eight (of 10) rounds since the caddy change. She now returns to the site of her first (and still only) 54-hole lead. Certainly a promising youngster to keep an eye on this week.
1. Justin Thomas
2. Jordan Spieth
5. Keegan Bradley
6. Adam Hadwin
7. Tommy Fleetwood
10. Denny McCarthy
12. Justin Suh
13. Maverick McNealy
14. Victor Perez
18. Ben Griffin