This week the PGA Tour gets back to traditional four round stroke play! A solid field returns to the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort for the first time in two years for the Valspar Championship. As always, here is your early deep-dive on the Valspar Championship and a preview for how to bet.
The Valspar Championship Preview: The Field
With the PGA Championship less than a month away, golfers are in crunch time to fine tune their skills for the second major. As such, there are a few decent names who make the trip to the Innisbrook Resort in Tampa, FL to play the event.
Headlining the tournament is World #1 Dustin Johnson. Dustin Johnson is in a bit of a slump recently. He doesn’t have a Top 10 finish since the Genesis Invitational and hasn’t been very relevant on the leaderboard since then. He did have a very nice final round at the RBC Heritage a couple weeks back. That could be enough to give him momentum for this week to get things back on track.
Justin Thomas also will play the Valspar Championship in 2021. Thomas will play this event for the first time since 2017, where he missed the cut. He was in the mix at the Masters a few weeks ago before faltering over the weekend. He will seek to build some momentum at the Valspar Championship in hopes of carrying that to the PGA Championship.
Also in the field is two time defending champion Paul Casey. Casey won this event in both 2018 and 2019 and returns to try for the three-peat. Paul Casey has played very excellent golf over the last few months, and is a serious threat to win this tournament yet again.
For the full field, click here.
The Valspar Championship Preview: The Golf Course
The Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club opened in 1970 just north of Tampa, FL. The club has four golf courses on the property, with the most famous being the Copperhead Course. All four golf courses were designed by a man named Larry Packard. He may not be the most recognizable architect in the United States, but he has a remarkable story.
In the Great Depression, Larry Packard became passionate about agronomy and landscape architecture. One of his first jobs was to plant grass along a two mile runway at the Westover Field Air Base. The precision and care he did in planting it was noticed by the U.S. Government, and soon enough he was contracted to plant grass at several of their military bases. He also was very influential in coming up with breakthrough camouflaged techniques for the air bases during World War II to prevent enemy attack. He did such a good job that pilots often admitted they had trouble finding the runways to land.
After the war ended, Packard launched himself into golf architecture under the tutelage of Robert Bruce Harris. Over the next 50 years, Packard built over 350 golf courses, with a significant concentration in Chicago and surrounding midwest.
But of all the golf courses he designed, the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort is by far the most famous and his crowning achievement:
One of the most interesting features of the golf course is the hilliness and elevation changes to it. That’s not something you typically expect from a Florida resort course. But the Copperhead Course offers some pretty good elevation changes tee-to-green, both uphill and downhill. It’s not dramatic by any means, but it certainly differentiates itself from most other flat golf courses in the state.
The golf course also utilizes dog legs very well. Only one hole on the golf course (#10) doesn’t have some semblance of a dog-leg characteristic in it. Packard also did a very nice job utilizing water hazards, tree lines, and bunkers around these dog-legs to make for a challenging tee shot that demands accuracy. Packard’s hallmark signature on a golf course is the double dog-leg, which is on full display on the Par 5 14th hole. The double dog-leg is now a popular feature in golf architecture, many of which are seen on Jack Nicklaus designed golf courses.
Speaking of Jack Nicklaus, Copperhead has a notorious three-holed animal-themed stretch like PGA National does to its south. Holes 16-18 are known as the Snake Pit and is a very difficult closing stretch to the course:
16th Hole – 475 Yards
This hole is very intimidating off the tee. To the left is a wall of trees awaiting errant shots. To the right is a large pond awaiting errant shots right. And the fairway narrows the farther down the ball travels. Less-than-driver off the tee is optimal to keep the ball in play. But sacrificing distance off the tee leaves for a very long approach shot to a small green.
17th Hole – 215 Yards
This long par 3 is heavily guarded by challenging bunkers on almost all sides. While the green is larger than most others on the golf course, it’s not an easy one to hit in regulation by any means.
18th Hole – 445 Yards
Another very intimidating tee shot to close out the round on the Copperhead Course. Any tee shots that find their way into the bunkers on the left don’t stand a great chance to hit the green in regulation. While a shot into the bunkers on the right provides for a good look at the green, they’re all very narrow. Golfers must get the ball up quickly in order to fly over the lip and onto the green. While hitting into the front greenside bunker is a safe bailout, balls that fly into the back bunker are a death sentence. The greens slope significantly from back to front and make for a very challenging up and down from the back of the green.
Overall, this is a very stern test for the PGA Tour. The golf course is very narrow and presents lots of pitfalls, especially off the tee. The winning score at this event has only exceeded -10 once in the last seven Valspar Championships. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook has stood the test of time to still challenge the best players in the world.
The Valspar Championship Preview: Betting Strategies
As alluded to earlier, there’s a lot of trouble off the tee at the golf course. The routing tee-to-green also puts a premium on positional golf. It’s not only important to stay in the fairway on Copperhead, but one needs to hit the correct side of the fairway for the best looks into the pin. Players will pull less-than-driver off the tee more than they typically do, particularly on the Par 4’s.
It’s possible, however, to be aggressive off the tee. Bubba Watson and Jon Rahm took very aggressive lines off the tee in 2019 to secure Top 5 finishes. But for the most part, positional golf will be the primary strategy for the entire field.
By sacrificing distance off the tee, players will find themselves holding intermediate and long irons into most of the greens. And the greens are very small on the Copperhead course with trouble lurking all around it. Players miss greens at a higher rate than the average PGA Tour course at Innisbrook. Those who have a strong command over their irons have a significant leg up on the field. For those who don’t, the strong ability to scramble and get up and down for par often will have an edge too. And because the winning score doesn’t typically get out of control, players aren’t required to gain a ton of strokes per round putting in order to keep up.
All this is perfectly encapsulated by the relative skill set chart of past leaderboards on the Copperhead Course:
It’s also important to check what the grass type will be this week for the event. The Copperhead Course is naturally a Bermuda golf course. However, it is typically overseeded with ryegrass and poa trivialis when played in March. This year, the event was moved to late April on the schedule. While its likely that the superintendents will prefer to keep the golf course overseeded. It may be warm enough in Tampa to allow the Bermuda to regrow and emerge from dormancy. This is an important item to keep tabs on. Putting down Bermuda can be tricky, and a far departure from the green conditions this tournament has seen in the past.
Lastly, here are the players in the field who have gained over a stroke per round at Copperhead (minimum of 10 rounds). This list should preview the types of players to appear near the top of the leaderboard at the Valspar Championship:
- Henrik Stenson – +1.76
- Luke Donald – +1.60
- Steve Stricker – +1.37
- Paul Casey – +1.34
- Charles Howell III – +1.33
- Jason Dufner – +1.28
- Louis Oosthuizen – +1.20
- Patrick Reed – +1.19
- Bubba Watson – +1.18
- Justin Thomas – +1.11
- Russell Henley – +1.09
- Charl Schwartzel – +1.09
- Nick Watney – +1.08
Most of the names on this list don’t have a lot of “WOW” factor. They’re very consistent, accurate players tee-to-green who also have very good abilities around the green. They’re comfortable playing a style of golf where par is a good score. That’s a solid recipe for success at Copperhead.
The one exception on this list is Bubba Watson, who as mentioned before scored a Top 5 at the Valspar in 2019. He’s an aggressive bomber off the tee, which you’d think a place like Valspar would handcuff him. But Bubba’s best quality is to dramatically shape the ball in both directions. It’s this ability that allows him to work the ball around the dog legs or even work the ball back to the green if he finds himself out of position. There are not many players who possess as much magic with their shot shapes as he does. He’s a unicorn and an exception to the rule of the type of player that thrives on the Copperhead Course.