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-off in field strength compared to some of the recent events. Still, there are a few big names making the trip, most notably Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, and back-to-back champ Sam Burns.
The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is the host this week. They’ve played here since the inaugural 2000 edition.
This par 71 plays to 7,340 yards. That seems to be a reasonable length at first glance but the course design makes this play a bit longer.
Golfers are urged to hit less-than-driver on many on the par 4s which creates a lot of mid-iron and long-iron approaches. As Scott Stallings put it last year, “You have to be a good player through the middle of the bag. A lot of 175-, 190-, 200-yard shots.”
Looking at last year’s event, only 31 percent of approach shots originated from inside of 150 yards. Not a wedge-friendly course.
Water comes into play on up to nine holes which sounds like a lot but it’s a big relief compared to recent events at TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, and PGA National. One way to look at the impact of the water is the rate of big numbers. The field finds double bogey or worse on 1.8% of holes at Innisbrook, while that rate sits around 2.9 percent when looking at the average of the other three Florida venues.
Tree lines and doglegs urge golfers to shape their shots. Smart striking 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 overseeded conditions. The greens are relatively small at 5,822 square feet, while also being heavily sloped like you’d imagine from a classical-looking design.
Last year aside, this is one of the toughest scoring environments they face all year, outside of majors.
Sifting through some past quotes, let’s try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Justin Thomas in 2022: “If you’re not playing well and not driving it well it’s a tough golf course. It’s very similar to like Sawgrass or Riviera to me to where you put the ball in play or at least you put it on the right side of the holes off the tees I feel like can you do some damage.”
Bubba Watson in 2019: “I hit a lot of irons off tees just to get the ball in play. Even if it laid back a lot further I trusted my iron game to hit some of the greens and that’s really what I did.”
Adam Hadwin in 2022: “It’s kind of similar to courses that I grew up on, kind of through the trees. You got to work the golf ball both ways. You got to be in position off the tee, otherwise you get blocked out on certain holes.”
A position-based course with an emphasis on patience.
Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week’s host course and compare that to all of the courses played out 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 at 5 to 10 MPH, gusts up to 20 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Winds at 12 to 18 MPH, gusts up to 30 MPH.
It looks relatively calm to start the week but wind and rain arrive as the week goes on.