The Valspar Championship is fast becoming one of the most respected and popular stops on the PGA Tour. The telecast is broadcast to more than 220 countries and translated into 29 different languages. Players have consistently voted The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook as a top-10 favorite venue on Tour because of its exceptional conditioning and demanding layout. With only four weeks until The Masters, Valspar provides one of the final opportunities for players to round their games into peak form and sustain major mindsets. Here are five things you need to know as the Tour returns to Florida’s Gulf Coast this week.
Inside the Field
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are making their career debuts at Innisbrook. The Copperhead Course should be a stern test for both as the course rewards ball-striking and proper placement of tee shots. Sergio Garcia and Jordan Spieth are also in the field, which includes five of the top 13 players in the OWGR. Garcia will test the “Snake Pit” for the first time since 2013, while Spieth is back after a one year absence. Defending champion Adam Hadwin looks to join K.J. Choi and Retief Goosen as the only two-time winners at Innisbrook, and comes in playing well with two top-10 finishes against strong fields in his last two starts.
The Snake Pit
Ho. 16 at Valspar
Holes 16, 17, and 18 are collectively known as the “Snake Pit,” and historically rank inside the top-5 toughest group of finishing holes on Tour. Expect stirring theater and high drama coming down the stretch on Sunday. The entire right side on the par-4, 475 yard 16th is a watery grave, and for those who manage to stay dry, the approach is even tighter. The par-3, 215-yard 17th hole is all about the green, and club selection will be crucial to finding the right spot on this enormous putting surface. No. 18 is an uphill par-4, 445-yard hole with a narrow tree-lined fairway. Flanked by bunkers on both sides, the severely undulating green is the most treacherous on the course.
Leave Your Driver in the Bag
Things can go wrong in a hurry if you pull out the driver at Copperhead. With tight, tree-lined fairways and a bevy of doglegs, look for a majority of the field to use less-than-driver off the tee. Because positioning off the tee will be more crucial than distance on this 7,340 yard, par-71 track, expect to see a lot of long irons and fairway woods coming into the greens on a few of the par-4s and par-5s. Considering the distance players will be approaching the greens from, it’s crucial they play from the fairway as the greens are generally small and tough to hit. The putting surfaces are fast and undulating, putting or chipping from the wrong spots will bring certain trouble.
Not a Conventional Par-71 Layout
Copperhead features four par-5s and five par-3s. There’s only a 20-yard difference between the shortest and longest par-3s, but a variety of green shapes, protections, and elevation changes make them very challenging to score on. The 4th green is wide but shallow, while the 8th green is deep and narrow. The 13th green features the only forced carry over water, while the 17th green is protected by bunkers and trees perching over both sides. Wind is almost always a factor making things even more difficult. The four par-5s at Valspar are the most difficult par-5s to score on outside of majors. Since 2014 birdie average on the par-5s is dead last, and eagle average is second-to-last.
To ensure Copperhead remains a great test of golf, the course was restored in 2015 to honor the guiding principles of famed course architect Larry Packard and his masterful design. Each green was rebuilt to USGA specifications and several were restored to their original larger sizes to allow for more pin placements. Putting surfaces now feature a new strain of TifEagle Bermudagrass, while the fairways were seeded with Celebration Bermudagrass for greater shade and drought tolerance and recovery. A new state-of-the-art irrigation system will save 11 million gallons of water per year.
Copperhead is a great course for Jordan Spieth to finally piece it all together and collect a win this season. Spieth loves to work the ball side-to-side and up-and-down, and that’s the key to winning here. In four previous appearances at Valspar, Jordan has finished in the top-20, including a win in 2015. Spieth should also be a lot more comfortable on the Bermuda putting surfaces, where he’s picked up over seven strokes in his career on these greens. Look for Spieth to knock down an assorted variety of clutch putts and convert some beyond belief par saves this week as he returns to the winner’s circle.