2023 Valspar Championship Preview

2023 Valspar Championship Preview
2023 Valspar Championship Preview

After an exciting conclusion to the PLAYERS Championship, the Florida swing comes to an end on the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour transitions to the 2023 Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort. As always, here is your early deep dive on the 2023 Valspar Championship and a preview of how to bet.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

2022 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 attacks. He did such a good job that pilots often admitted they had trouble finding the runways to land. It seemed as though Packard was destined for a career role in the United States Military.

After the war ended, however, 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 the 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 its 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 doglegs very well. Only one hole on the golf course (#10) doesn’t have some semblance of a dogleg characteristic in it. Packard also did a very nice job utilizing water hazards, tree lines, and bunkers around these doglegs to make for a challenging tee shot that demands accuracy.

In addition, Packard’s hallmark signature on a golf course is the double dogleg, which is on full display on the Par 5 14th hole:

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

The double dogleg is now a popular feature in golf architecture, many of which are seen on Jack Nicklaus-designed golf courses. For most, the double dogleg turns the Par 5 into a three-shot hole. But for those looking to take on more risk, there is an opportunity to shorten it up by hitting two precise shots over the trees.

For most of the last decade, the Valspar Championship was one of the tougher-scoring tournaments on the PGA Tour. From 2013-2019, the winning score only eclipsed past -10 once. But in the last two years, Sam Burns has won the Valspar Championship with a winning score of -17. And what once was a tournament with the field average score over par, it has played under par in the last two events.

In 2023, it seems as though the tournament wants to get back to its tough roots. There are a few changes made to the golf course in order to beef it up. First, the rough this year will be cut to 3.75″, which is 0.75″ longer than usual. In addition, the intermediate cut around the green has shrunk from 6 feet in width to just under 2 feet to bring the rough closer to the greens.

While these changes certainly will make the golf course tougher, it might have unintended consequences as to what types of golfers gamblers should target this week. That and more will be discussed below in the betting strategies section.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview – Betting Strategies

Here are the major stats and facts about the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook to keep in mind this week. This will help preview the types of players and statistics to focus on for the 2023 Valspar Championship.

Copperhead Course Yardage

Per the GCSAA, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is 7,340 yards and plays as a Par 71. The golf course has five Par 3’s at the expense of one Par 4. It also has four Par 5’s.

Here is a breakdown of the types of holes at the Copperhead Course for the 2023 Valspar Championship:

Par 3’s

Last year, the Par 3’s at the Valspar Championship played at the following distances:

Hole No. 4: 172, 178, 181, 191

Hole No. 8: 232, 224, 195, 244

Hole No. 13: 179, 186, 177, 173

Hole No. 15: 215, 174, 167, 208

Hole No. 17: 178, 225, 189, 198

The tournament does a good job mixing up the tee boxes used on a few of the Par 3’s. Last year, the tournament utilized forward tees on Holes No. 8, 15, and 17 at between 170-195 yards each. However, on other days these holes utilized back tees and stretched the holes well over 215 yards each. This helps keep players on their toes in the tournament day to day. It also allows for flexibility should wind conditions dictate the need for a shorter hole.

Overall, though, these are a collection of some very long Par 3’s. 80% of them played over 175 yards, and 30% of them played over 200 yards during the tournament. And in comparison to other PGA Tour venues, the Copperhead Course features the fourth longest collection of Par 3’s of all active non-major PGA Tour golf courses. Players will need to perform well with a long iron in hand on these holes.

Since 2015, the field average score on the Par 3’s is +0.12. Of all active PGA Tour golf courses with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Par 3’s on the Copperhead Course are the 10th toughest on the PGA Tour.

Par 4’s

Here are the yardage ranges for the Par 4’s at the Copperhead Course for the 2023 Valspar Championship

< 350 Yards: 0.0%

350-400 Yards: 13.9%

400-450 Yards: 75.0%

450-500 Yards: 11.1%

There is a very high concentration of Par 4’s between 400 and 450 yards on the Copperhead Course. And collectively, they only average about 422 yards in length. None of them are drivable. But none of them are brutally long like several other PGA Tour venues offer. In fact, none of them even played over 465 yards last year.

But despite their short length, they play tough. Of all active PGA Tour courses with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Par 4’s at the Copperhead Course are the 9th toughest on the PGA Tour. Most of the Par 4’s are dog-legged and feature trouble flanking both sides of the narrow landing zones. Trouble comes in the form of a water hazard, trees, or 3.75″ ryegrass rough.

Par 5’s:

Last year, the Par 5’s at the Valspar Championship played at the following distances:

Hole No. 1: 554, 545, 551, 560

Hole No. 5: 618, 602, 598, 616

Hole No. 11: 558, 566, 549, 572

Hole No. 14: 572, 587, 589, 581

No. 1 and 11 are reachable in two for almost all players as long as they’re in the fairway or intermediate cut of rough. Hole No. 5 is essentially a three-shot hole for most players other than bombers or if players receive an assist with a tailwind into the green. And Hole No. 14 is normally a three-shot hole for most players due to the double dog leg. However, a longer hitter can take on additional risk by hitting over the doglegs to shorten up the hole.

Overall, the Par 5’s average is about 576 yards in length. And due to their restrictive design, they play tough annually. Of all active PGA Tour golf courses with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Par 5’s at the Copperhead Course are the 2nd toughest on the PGA Tour. The scoring average for the field on the Par 5’s at the Copperhead Course since 2015 is only -0.21. However, players have fared better on them of late due to weather conditions and advances in technology.

Agronomy

At its natural state, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is a Bermuda golf course. However, for tournament play, it is treated with an overseeding. The 3.75″ rough is overseeded with ryegrass, while the greens are overseeded with poa trivialis.

Here are other golf courses on the PGA Tour that feature an overseeded putting surface:

Austin Country Club

TPC Sawgrass (post-2018)

TPC San Antonio

Harbour Town

TPC Louisiana

TPC Scottsdale

PGA West

Quail Hollow

However, as we saw last week at the PLAYERS Championship, the Bermuda might be emerging from dormancy a bit. The rough seemed to have a bit of non-dormant Bermuda grass weaved throughout it. And there was definitely some visual grain one could see from a typical Bermuda green on the broadcast. As such, the Copperhead Course might have a little more Bermuda grass in it than a standard rye and poa trivialis overseeded golf course on the PGA Tour.

Off the Tee

Overall, players struggle off the tee at the Copperhead Course. Of all active golf courses on the PGA Tour, with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Copperhead Course is the toughest off the tee.

The Copperhead Course can take the driver out of the players’ hands more often than they’re used to on the Par 4’s. Between bottlenecked fairways and sharp doglegs, laying back from trouble and playing positional golf is the optimal strategy off the tee. While there are some opportunities to take on adversity or hit over the dog legs, most players play conservatively off the tee at Innisbrook.

Case in point – two-time defending champion Sam Burns. On 58% of the Par 4’s he played last year at the 2022 Valspar Championship, he pulled less-than-driver. The fact that even one of the more aggressive players off the tee in Sam Burns, thought better than to try and take on adversity with his driver, shows how restrictive the Copperhead Course can be on the players.

And that’s why Innisbrook has one of the lowest average driving distance rates on the PGA Tour. Since 2015, the average drive on the Par 4’s and 5’s at the Copperhead Course is only 276.3 yards. Only Pebble Beach, Harbour Town, and TPC Louisiana feature shorter average driving distances on all tee shots on the Par 4’s and 5’s.

Even though players opt for more accurate clubs off the tee, that doesn’t mean everyone finds the fairway a lot. While the average driving accuracy rate at the Copperhead Course since 2015 is about 64%, that’s pretty low, considering how conservative the players are off the tee. They still struggle to find the fairway because of how narrow they are. The fairways average a little over 28 yards in width or 5th narrowest on the PGA Tour.

However, there isn’t much of a penalty for players who find themselves in the rough. Players only lose about 0.23 strokes to the field from hitting approach shots from the rough versus players who hit from the fairway. It’s the 10th least penal active golf course to hit tee shots into the rough. This has more to do with how difficult the approach shots are at Innisbrook, not the rough itself. And with the rough longer in 2023, it’ll only make it that much more difficult.

Approach Play

The Copperhead Course features some of the lowest green in-regulation rates on the PGA Tour. Since 2015, the field has hit only 57.4% of the greens in regulation at the Copperhead Course. Of all active PGA Tour golf courses with at least five tournaments since 2015, that’s the 4th lowest rate on the PGA Tour. 

And the degree of difficulty on the approach shots is also high. Of all active golf courses on the PGA Tour, with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Copperhead Course has the 9th toughest approach shots. More specifically, it features the 7th most difficult from under 150 yards and the 10th most difficult from over 150 yards.

There are a few reasons why the approach shots are tough and the green in regulation rate is so low. For starters, the greens only average about 5,800 square feet in area. That’s below average for a regular PGA Tour course. And given how difficult it sometimes can be to hit out of 3 to 4 inch ryegrass rough, players have to hit and hope the ball lands in close proximity to the green to try and get up and down for par.

Second, there are a decent amount of long approach shots at the Copperhead Course. Here’s the approach shot distribution chart from DataGolf from the 2022 Valspar Championship.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

There are above average rates on shots between 175-200 and from 225+ than the typical PGA Tour golf course. Anytime players are asked to hit longer approach shots at a higher-than-average rate, the green in regulation percentage will naturally be suppressed.

It should be noted that most of the longer approach shots come primarily from the Par 3’s and the Par 5’s. As mentioned above, 80% of the Par 3’s played longer than 175 yards. These will be primarily where all the long approach shots will come from.

As for the Par 4’s, players generally have much shorter approach shots. Sam Burns averaged a little under 150 yards on all his Par 4 approach shots into the green, including 30% that were from under 125 yards. To compare, short-hitting Brian Harman actually had slightly fewer yards into the green than Sam Burns did. His Par 4 approach shots averaged 147 yards, and only 16% came from more than 170 yards.

As such, I’m not sure growing the rough longer is going to really change anything. The green in regulation rates was already pretty low. And the average distance into each green on the Par 4’s isn’t that long. There will only be a handful of holes where a shorter player will have trouble hacking out of the rough from a longer approach shot into the green on a Par 4. Otherwise, almost everyone should still be able to hit a short iron from out of it on these holes.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

Around the Green

Historically around the green isn’t very difficult at the Copperhead Course. Of all active golf courses on the PGA Tour that have at least five tournaments since 2015, the Copperhead Course has the 6th easiest conditions around the green. More specifically, they’re the fifth easiest from the fairway, the 14th easiest from the rough, and the 13th easiest from bunkers.

The ease of scrambling from the fairway makes sense. Like last week at TPC Sawgrass, players have the opportunity to putt from the fringe or apron. The overseed makes doing so a little easier. However, players will have less opportunity to do so in 2023, with the golf course bringing the rough closer to the green.

However, it remains to be seen if conditions from the rough make scoring and separating oneself from the field a little tougher. With the rough up 3/4″, players will draw poorer lies than they would in the past. It also will make it more of a crapshoot if a player draws a good or poor lie from around the green. And they’ll be doing so more often than in the past.

Putting

Historically, the Copperhead Course has been moderately difficult to putt on. Of all active golf courses on the PGA Tour, with at least five tournaments since 2015, the Copperhead Course has the 9th toughest greens. Like last week at TPC Sawgrass, however, the difficulty at the Copperhead Course is much closer to that of the average PGA Tour venue than the absolute toughest. As such, it’s only slightly above average in difficulty.

More specifically, the Copperhead Course is average in difficulty on putts less than 5 feet. But it is 7th in difficulty on putts from 5 to 15 feet and 11th in difficulty from over 15 feet.

Though not a household name in the golf architecture community, Larry Packard built himself a fairly difficult set of greens. They’re multi-tiered, have some decent undulation, and can be slippery when the golf course is dried out. That probably explains why the greens are difficult to putt on from over 5 feet. Players have a tough time converting birdie putts from longer distances for that very reason.

One thing to also keep in mind is the possible insurgency of Bermuda’s emergence from its dormant state and creeping through the poa overseed. The winter in Florida was a fairly warm one. As such, the greens might behave a little more like a Bermuda green than a smooth rolling poa trivialis overseeded one.

Next, here’s a chart from DataGolf that shows how the variance in total strokes gained is determined based on different areas of the golf game. This will determine how the leaderboard will shake out at the 2023 Valspar Championship.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

Historically, one’s performance on and around the green has been more of a contributor to the dispersion in total strokes gained at the Copperhead Course than ball striking has. This seems odd, given how difficult the ball striking conditions are. One would think that premium ball strikers would be able to separate themselves more from the field than poor ones, thus having a higher contribution to the variance in overall strokes gained.

The reason behind this is probably to do with off-the-tee more so than iron play. Because the driver is taken out of the player’s hands more often and that there aren’t many options to take off the tee, it’s harder to separate oneself in that department. More simply explained, everyone seems to hit the ball from roughly the same place into each green. That explains why off-the-tee hasn’t contributed significantly toward the total strokes gained at the Copperhead Course.

What’s also unusual is how this chart suggests that the tournament is actually a putting contest. How one putts at the Copperhead Course has a much higher contribution to the variance in total strokes gained than the average PGA Tour course. Part of this probably has to do with the difficulty of the greens. While they’re not greens where no one can hit a putt, they provide enough difficulty that if someone has a great week putting, they’ll separate from the pack a little easier.

However, the degree to which putting has contributed to total strokes gained has fluctuated widely at this tournament. In years with easier scoring conditions, putting weighted much more heavily in the variance in total strokes gained than in years in which it was fairly difficult. In tougher years, it’s actually weighted more toward performance around the green, as players miss more greens than in past years.

Next, here’s a skillset profile of players expected to play well at the Copperhead Course (courtesy of DataGolf). This will preview the types of players who will play well at the 2023 Valspar Championship.

2023 Valspar Championship Preview

While putting has more often determined how the leaderboard shakes out, it hasn’t mattered in terms of the profile of player. There is a low correlation between good and poor putters and the expectation of success at the Valspar. For every good putter like Sam Burns and Adam Hadwin who have found success, there are poor ones like Paul Casey and Sergio Garcia who also have.

The ideal profile of a player with the best chance of success at the Copperhead Course is an efficient and accurate player tee-to-green. There are high correlations of success at the Copperhead Course to players who are accurate off the tee, solid iron players, and have deft touch around the green. And because of how restrictive it is off the tee, distance isn’t a huge criterion, unlike other golf courses on the PGA Tour.

And that’s seen in who has done the best at the golf course. Here’s a Top 10 list of players in the field with the most success at the Copperhead Course (minimum of 10 rounds played):

Sam Burns – 16 rounds, +2.61/round

Jordan Spieth – 18 rounds, +1.82/round

Justin Thomas – 18 rounds, +1.71/round

Justin Rose – 40 rounds, +1.50/round

Luke Donald – 42 rounds, +1.48/round

Jonathan Byrd – 42 rounds, +1.34/round

Jason Dufner – 46 rounds, +1.16/round

Webb Simpson – 36 rounds, +1.08/round

Denny McCarthy – 12 rounds, +0.96/round

Stewart Cink – 50 rounds, +0.94/round

This list excludes a long list of similar players with success at the Copperhead Course who have since jumped to LIV. They include Paul Casey, Abraham Ancer, Sergio Garcia, Charles Howell III, Louis Oosthuizen, and Henrik Stenson.

All these players are fairly similar (with a few exceptions). They’re mostly premium and accurate ball strikers. And there’s a big correlation between how reliant players are off the tee with distance. These are the ideal players to target this week. And it’s a great preview of what to expect at the 2023 Valspar Championship.

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