This week the Tour returns to Florida to continue its Sunshine State swing after being interrupted by last week’s WGC – Mexico Championship. Palm Harbor is the home of the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Club which will play host to this week’s Valspar Championship.
Copperhead is widely considered one of the most difficult courses on Tour; last year’s scoring average of 1.618 strokes over par ranked as the sixth most difficult on the season.
The field for this week is made up of 144 golfers; the top 70 with ties will play the weekend. 2016 Champion Charl Schwartzel is one of eight from the world’s top 30 golfers that are competing here this week. Last year Schwartzel was able to overcome a five shot deficit on Sunday to force a playoff with 54-hole leader Bill Haas, who he defeated on the first bonus hole.
Though the 7,340 yards listed on the scorecard doesn’t portray a course that plays overly long, the nature in which this track is set up mirrors those that are much more prodigious in length. Tree-lined fairways, severe doglegs, and strategically placed bunkers all force golfers to play smart off the tee, often times causing them to club down to avoid trouble. There will be a premium on golfers who can keep the ball on the correct side of the fairway in order to maintain a clean look at the green.
Copperhead’s par-71 layout is somewhat unconventional in that it features five par-3s and four par-5s; four of the five par-3s measure at over 200 yards and all of the par-5s are over 550 yards long. For the last 11 years more than 55% of all approach shots have come from over 175 yards. These yardages all point to an advantage for players who perform well with long irons.
The closing three hole stretch of 16, 17, and 18 here at Copperhead is affectionately referred to as the “Snake Pit”. Last year the par-4 16th saw more double bogeys or worse than it did birdies, finishing the week with a scoring average of .354 over par. The 16th combined with the difficult par-3 17th and par-4 18th played at .598 strokes over par last year, making it one of the most difficult closing stretches on Tour.
Although the Snake Pit garners much of the attention, last year the par-3 13th actually played more difficult than any part of the famed closing stretch. At .365 strokes over par it ranked as the 23rd toughest hole on Tour and third among the par-3s.
Of the 18 holes on the course, 10 of them have been hit in regulation under 60% of the time. Surrounding these greens are thick rough and many precarious bunkers. Once golfers are fortunate enough to find themselves on the green, they will be faced with undulated, Bermuda-grass putting surfaces.
The key to this week will be finding golfers who are good with long irons and who avoid big numbers. With just three holes averaging under par last year, scoring par on many of these holes will actually be gaining strokes on the field.
- Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
- Greens In Regulation
- Bogey Avoidance
- Strokes Gained: Approach
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
Any time the Tour takes on a course that requires the kind of shot making that Copperhead does, finding guys that are good ball strikers becomes vital. Ball position will be a major focus for golfers this week as everything will revolve around their angle to the green. Of the top 18 in SG:T2G here last year, 16 of them finished inside the top 22.
Greens In Regulation
Though the greens at Copperhead are average in size, they are some of the harder to hit on Tour; last year’s tournament saw just 55.3% of greens hit in regulation. Over the last 11 years the field average has been 60.2% GIR versus the winners average of 68.3%.
In a perfect world golfers would never miss the green, but Copperhead is pretty far from a perfect world. The reverse side of that 55% GIR is the 45% of the time that the ball didn’t find the putting surface and forced players to try and get up and down. The past 11 years the field has been able to save par just 56.7% of the time, whereas the champions of this event have managed to convert 70.2% of their opportunities.
Last year’s winning score of -7 shows us that this tournament is more of a be patient and grind it out sort of event. With scoring opportunities few and far between, maintaining any strokes you have gained will be extremely important. Like mentioned before, par is essentially a birdie on some of these holes.
Strokes Gained: Approach
Last year Schwartzel finished 52nd in SG:T2G but combated that with an excellent SG:APP rank of 3rd, picking up nearly two strokes on the field when targeting the green. Graham DeLaet lead the category last year and finished fifth despite losing over a stroke and half on the greens. If looking to pinpoint a specific range for proximity, it makes perfect sense to target everything from beyond 175 yards.