Last year in this space we were a little hard on Tampa. Neil led us off with an utterly depressing commentary that captured Tampa in all it’s glory, and then discussed the golf tournament within that context. Here’s a sampling:
In a book I recently read – The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Tampa is used as the prime example of a city representing the decay of the greatest generation, the causes of the ’08 housing bubble, and what’s happened to the American Dream. Basically, everyone lives in suburbs that are half-full of over-leveraged families or half-developed with abandoned cluster castles. In this largely unplanned sprawl exists a public transit void, leading to a population addicted to finite/foreign oil, and the city itself is void of pedestrians and diversity (which leads to a lack of new ideas brought about by interaction and innovation in diverse urban areas). All in all, a pretty uplifting read, though I digress…The gist is that Tampa, with two and a half professional sports teams (the Bucs were relegated to fractional status thanks to the efforts of Greg Schiano), millions of rust belt transplants, a significant metropolitan area (2.9 million in 2011), and site of the most recent 2012 Republican National Convention, is a hot bed for three things: golf, lots of extremely old people, and a variety of strip clubs (more on those later). So you have a warm weather locale, with tons of old, conservative, white males who have the resources (over-leveraged or not) and time to play golf.
However, since the event really isn’t IN Tampa proper, I figured that was a bit harsh. Attempting a more upbeat theme this year. Here goes…
The Florida Swing is, in my inconsequential estimation, the most overrated stretch of the Tour schedule. The Honda doesn’t do it for me:
- Palm Beach oozes a generic geriatric vibe that pollutes the proceedings, and the course isn’t all that notable other than being really freaking difficult;
- Doral is an exhibition of blunt force/hypefest for a has-been resort that gets jet fuel dumped on it all day every day;
- Bay Hill is a celebration of all things Arnie (whom I adore) but I just don’t love the course and I openly loathe Orlando (sorry Golf Channel brethren, it ain’t personal).
However, I truly enjoy the Valspar, the gem of the Florida Swing and the St. Jetersburg area. Put plainly, the Valspar is the manifestation of substance over hype and grit over style (seriously, if one more tweet pops up on my feed regarding Trump presenting Rory’s 3-iron to him I’m going postal) – it’s one of the few tournaments a year that I can tune in and count on the telecast to be centered on golf, and said golf being covered in such a way that the rising stars are actually shown live (see: Jordan Spieth backing up his performance in Puerto Rico the following week in 2013; Gary Woodland’s first win in ’11; Streelman and Senden getting it done; DeLaet playing well every year; an annual WillyMac sighting; Scott Langley announcing himself last year, etc.).
“Did someone say grit?”
The course certainly has something to do with it – a classic, fair layout with clean lines, great foliage, and a premium on ballstriking – how is that not the norm on Tour? However, beyond the venue, the general anonymity of the event surely feeds into what I like about it. In the eyes of the casual observer I’d imagine this week certainly doesn’t command much attention beyond tuning in for the back nine on Sunday. There’s nothing remarkable or spectacular, it’s just solid. Solid field. Solid venue. Solid coverage (since there’s not a whole lot NBC can really do to gin it up – more on this further on down the page). And in the words of Marshawn Lynch it just don’t get no better than solid.
Innisbrook: Copperhead Course
Located in the relatively random Innisbrook Resort (a Florida resort near the beach without beach access? Hilarious), the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is like the grown-up ballstriker’s version of Chuck E. Cheese. O.G. ballstrikers of Jim Furyk, Justin Rose, Kenny Perry, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood’s ilk don’t just show up at any random event for shits and gigs.
Designed by Larry Packard, Copperhead seems out of place in central Florida. Framed by trees, old school “lines,” smallish greens, and some subtle elevation changes that catch you off guard, this course demands accuracy and precision. At 7,300 yards it’s definitely not short, but I wouldn’t say anyone in the field is precluded from contending here, unlike last week. The formula seems to be fairways, greens, avoiding big numbers (the poop brown color will be out in full force on PGATour.com this week – there’s an inordinate amount of big numbers here) and keeping it between the proverbial mayonnaise and the mustard. It’s not really a birdie fest; it’s a tactician’s track (more Stanley Goodspeed than Kyle Stanley).
That thing is legitimately scarier than a hat-less Jim Furyk The big feature is the closing stretch of holes 16, 17 & 18, which is glossed “The Snake Pit.” A long-ass par-3 stuck in between two man-sized par-4’s, this stretch regularly ranks amongst the toughest on Tour. No word on how long it’s been named this: we like to pretend it was dubbed the (Trouser) Snake Pit after the ’11 event in honor of Woodland’s tour de force. The only thing holding this stretch of holes back is the mandatory and cringe-worthy nickname.
There really isn’t a vibe, as this event’s been wronged by Corporate America in a variety of different ways. Consider the following: It started as The Tampa Bay Championship, an almost-silly season event in 2000 opposite the President’s Cup in the fall, was cancelled in ’01 due to 9/11 (it was to be played opposite the WGC American Express Championship), and returned in ’02 as the Tampa Bay Championship presented by Buick when Buick execs decided they weren’t sponsoring enough golf events (and probably because the demo’s for old people with disposable income for a new LaSalle in the region made them swoon). From ’03 to ’06 the event doubled down on being an almost unrecognizable car event as the Chrysler Championship (amongst other Chrysler events in Greensboro, Palm Springs, and Tuscon), playing in a vacuum the week before The Tour Championship (Florida, middle of football season – people probably didn’t even know this thing existed).
In ’07 Finchy finally saw the light and moved the event to the middle of the Florida Swing and Kirk Triplett brought his PODS swag to town in the the form of a two-year stint as the Portable On Demand Storage Championship (no word on whether spectators received free bucket lids). ’09 brought with it the advent of the Transitions Championship, which was essentially a week long celebration of Trevor Immelman and Kenny Perry. Transitions lasted four years, bailing out really hard in ’12. EverBank, a regional bank out of Jacksonville, magnanimously stepped in as a stopgap and essentially saved the tournament. Valspar came to the rescue last year, and we the fans get to learn about paint products in a city where huffing paint is probably pretty popular. And yet, somehow in the midst all of this title sponsor tomfoolery this tournament has always managed to pay a substantial purse. Much respect to the tournament committee – you’ve built the Valspar Championship into something enduring and worthwhile.
One remembers a few firsts in life – first beer, first illicit sexual encounter in someone’s basement, first time stepping foot at Augusta National, first time experiencing “Spotlight Coverage” on Golf Channel.
That last one happened for me during this event last year. Swantek, Immelman, Byrum, BillyRay, et al. bombarded my television with trackman stats, fresh camera angles, strong takes geared toward serious golf fans, and the perspective inherent when you take a diverse cross section of talent and show dozens of guys play the same few shots. It was an eye-opening telecast that got me hooked.
The actual tournament was a see-saw battle all day Sunday, with almost a dozen guys jockeying for position, including some fascinating personalities in Na (watching him battle his demons is riveting), WillyMac and Garrigus, interspersed with some young talent, and topped off with Rose, Sendo, DeLaet, Woodland, and DubP (prior to ejecting on Saturday) all flashing ballstriking bonafides.
It’s Tampa. May I recommend the following…
In honor of the inestimable, esteemed @PFTCommenter
There’s not a ton I like out there this week, so the bets are smaller. The field is pretty strong, but top heavy. Keep in mind some of the extreme value fliers in DraftKings/FanDuel type stuff.
Kevin Na (45/1) – Showing flashes of late and track record at Copperhead commands respect.
Justin Thomas (75/1) – Just going to keep betting him before he gets in the 30/1 range every week, which will happen.
William McGirt (130/1) – Dirt McGirt is a thoroughbred and he’s going to win soon. He keeps knocking on the door and he plays tough, old school courses well. Form is outstanding.
FreddieJac (150/1) – Solid history at this event, having a solid year, plays well in events that aren’t birdie binges.
Carlos Ortiz & Jon Curran (170/1) – Split a unit between Tron’s two favorite rookies. Curran lost the PR Open in a playoff last week, which speaks volumes about his talent and makeup, but you have to worry about fatigue. However, this course should suit Curran and Ortiz very nicely.
Scott Langley (180/1) – Half unit. Finished 3rd here last year. Team NLU.
Spencer Levin (300/1) – Half unit. Nominal play here. Wholly unspectacular this year but I expect him to break out soon and this is the type of layout I expect it on. These odds are dumb. They’re paying you to take him.
Fantasy Corner: A smattering of heavyweights in the field this week – good time to lay the lumber with guys like Scott, Spieth, Stenson, and Rose. Tron also likes Francesco Molinari at 100/1, and Robert Allenby at 600/1, but I can’t quite get on board.
(Tracker: +24 units in 2015. Last week: -6. Funds are hemorrhaging. Way too cocky plugging this tracker into the preview.)
- Our guys over at the college football superblog Everyday Should Be Saturday basically make a big part of their living off of hating on Tampa. Here are two of our favorites: The first one ideates on how Tampa won the 2017 National Championship Game and the second digs in on the Tampa area sports scene (although it somehow skips over this event).
- Can someone put out an APB for BVP? Bo Van Pelt’s game vanished at the beginning of this year – he used to be my go-to in fantasy and now I’m a rudderless ship. Hope he’s on his grind and close to finding the special sauce!
- Any other week I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the EuroTour but Soly’s been deep in the jingoistic anti-OWGR game since the conclusion of last week’s WGC, and rightly so as I’m pretty sure every store-brand foreign guy got EJECTED. Also, it’s the Tshwane Open this week, which can be summed up with the same contention I use for Matt Kuchar – nice guy, lacks pop, not a killer, can’t play on my team.
- In researching this event, I noticed that John Huston won the inaugural iteration back in 2000. That’s a hell of a good way to kick things off. I put Huston up on a pedestal a long time ago for the following reasons: He plays stupid-fast. He made the cut at The Masters eleven times in a twelve year stretch. He shot 61 at Muirfield Village. He refused to win tournaments that weren’t in tropical locales. And most importantly, John Huston might be the streakiest player to ever play the game outside of Argentinian Mamba, Andres Romero.
- When I was a little kid they didn’t sell gum in the Tampa Airport because the place had wall to wall carpeting, like hundreds of acres of carpet. Year after year we used to vacation outside of Tampa, in Siesta Key, and I loathed flying in and out of there. The policy was borderline Soviet. Hopefully since then the military junta running TPA softened its stance on gum and quit terrorizing little kids.
- Much like my man Adam, if you float in certain circles you’re probably pretty familiar with the reputation of the scrip club scene in Tampa. It also featured prominently in Alan Shipnuck’s book detailing Rich Beem’s ascent to the Tour in the late nineties, as Beem’s then caddie the late Steve Duplantis was a resident of Tampa and a strip club aficionado. Those two details dovetail nicely, as the Mons Venus is the most legendary strip club in a city legendary for it’s strip clubs (just behind 1990’s Gold Club Era Atlanta). This place has quite the reputation. Also if you haven’t read Shipnuck’s Bud, Sweat, and Tees, do so ASAP. (Coincidentally it also features Westward Ho Golf Club up in the Dakota’s rather prominently, which was designed by one, Larry Packard).
- Lately, I’ve also pondered why Curt Schilling isn’t the honorary starter at a tournament sponsored by a paint company (I even asked him about it on twitter – for the record I’ve got nothing against Curt, phenomenal career, great dad, only slightly tarnished by the fact that he painted his sock and his crappy business acumen).
- A couple of editorial notes on these previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years carries over (course, vibe, etc.) – obviously some of it is straight repeat, but for the most part we’re trying to build on the stuff that was well-received and keep the good vibes rolling, and then obviously build the picks section from scratch every week. Each week Soly poses the question, “Is this poor journalism?” and rhetorically answers “Absolutely.” But I respectfully disagree with that question in the first place, because it’s not journalism, at least in my estimation. Instead it’s just dudes bullshitting about golf, interspersing random observations with creative writing, and telling it to you reals – and if we ever get to the point where it’s not about that, please let us know. Seriously.
- In that same vein, I want to say thank you to Soly for pretty much singlehandedly growing NLU from the off-brand “small-shop” with a couple thousand followers last year into the full-fledged multinational strong-takes conglomerate that it is today. There are technically four of us who started this thing and nursed it through it’s infancy in last year’s maiden voyage, but really since September Soly’s been doing the work about four times the work of the rest of us combined, kept the site going, and took the twitter-vibe to a whole new level, all while moving to Europe, not getting fired from his day job, and keeping his swing on plane. I’m in awe of his energy level and passion for NLU.