Valspar Championship's Copperhead is Florida's toughest Tour test

Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Valspar Championship's Copperhead is Florida's toughest Tour test

PGA Tour

Valspar Championship's Copperhead is Florida's toughest Tour test

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Trump Doral is off the 2016-17 PGA Tour schedule for the first time in decades, but players still will get their fill of Florida. Two weeks ago, it was PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, and next week, it’s the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. The Players, up the road at tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, sits waiting in May. 

This week, the Tour visits the west coast of the state for the Valspar Championship, and Innisbrook’s revamped Copperhead Course may be the biggest beast of the bunch. It’s far shorter than last week’s test in Mexico City, but no longer are we nearly 8,000 yards above sea level, Toto. 

At the Copperhead, a player earns his keep. Only once in the last four trips around the Valspar has a winner posted a score double-digits under par (Jordan Spieth, 10-under 274, two years ago). Last March, South African Charl Schwartzel, the eventual winner, played off against Bill Haas at 7 under par.

Shooting 2-under 282 a year ago placed a golfer in the top 10. 

“You see a lot of variety of what guys hit off tees,” said Matt Kuchar, who owns six top-20 finishes in nine starts at Copperhead. “But getting in the fairway, there’s rough and there’s trees that you don’t want to be in, and with the greens being this firm, coming out of the fairway, being able to have some spin on your golf ball is very important.”

Critical, he calls it. Copperhead’s TifEagle greens that were installed after the 2015 event still are firm, and greens were enlarged to allow more pinnable positions. The new greens are faster than the old, expected to run 12 on the Stimp during tournament rounds. 

And on a Tour on which the 20somethings have been dominant, experience counts for something at Valspar. Spieth winning two years ago at 21, jumpstarting his terrific 2015 campaign, was the rare time here that a trophy was handed to a youngster.

The Copperhead is a great second-shot golf course, and strong iron players such as Henrik Stenson and Ryan Moore have enjoyed some success here. Stenson relishes the fact the Copperhead tests him throughout the bag. It’s a big reason the tournament is on his schedule. 

“This is one that definitely suits me, and here we are again,” Stenson said.      

Adds Kuchar, “Par is certainly a good score around here. I don’t know if mentality (of playing a tougher course) changes. I don’t know if some guys accept the fact that they know they are going to make a couple bogeys here and there. You’re kind of OK knowing that you don’t have to go 6 under par a day and a couple bogeys here or there are not the hugest setbacks.

“I think the mentality is just patience. Patience is kind of a big deal around here.”

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