The Florida swing heads to the Tampa area this week for the Valspar Championship. 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 point being, 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 – so why does no one care about the Valspar Championship? Let’s dig into the preview to find out why…
Innisbrook: Copperhead Course
The course sure as hell ain’t the problem. In fact, it might be the main reason why this event still exists. Located in the relatively random Innisbrook Resort (a Florida resort near the beach without beach access?), the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort is like the grown-up ballstriker’s version of Chuck E. Cheese. This is literally the only valid explanation for why this event has a solid field. Guy’s like the course.
Designed by Larry Packard, who passed away at the age of 101 back in January, Copperhead seems out of place in central Florida. Framed by trees, old school “lines,” featuring 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 it doesn’t discriminate against the shorter guys in the field, either (the list of past champions is all over the place (most recent first): Streelman, Donald (RIP), Woodland, Furyk, Goosen, O’Hair, Calc, Choi, Petterson, Vijay, Goosen (again), Choi (again), and NLU favorite John Huston in the inaugural event). Aside from Woodland, the formula seems to be fairways, greens, and 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). It’s not really a birdie fest; it’s a tactician’s track.
That thing is legitimately scarier than a hat-less Jim Fury
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 nickname. After the “Bear Trap” a few weeks ago, this one seems corny (even though it’s probably a harder stretch).
There really isn’t a vibe. Here we’ll touch on the main reason why this event has a negative Q-rating: this event has been wronged by Corporate America. You ready for this?: 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’s cronies 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 this year, and we the fans get to learn about paint products. It’s a win-win! Somehow, amidst all of this corporate tomfoolery, this tournament has always managed to pay a substantial purse. Respect that.
Boo’s final round 63 stole the show and the wait must’ve been agonizing – dude was done with his round ridiculously early. In the end, Streelman was rock solid all day and his win elicited a lot of goodwill and well-wishes from all over the world of pro-golf. A former looper out at NLU’s future HQ (Whisper Rock), Streels is one of the nice guy’s on Tour, so it was a feel-good Sunday. His ballstriking was on-point.
Anytime DubP, Spieth, Harris English, Sergio, Harman, DeLaet, and Coetzee (stupid long) are on the first few pages, you’ve got yourself a girthy final board. All are in the field this week, except Coetzee and Serg who are skipping…
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Horses for Courses
Jordan Spieth (16/1) – By this point on the schedule he’s a grizzled vet. This time last year he was fresh off a runner-up performance in Puerto Rico, fighting the non-member sponsor exemptions shot clock, starting to build cred, and from this event on played almost every event. Think about that–he balled out so hard last year while playing almost all of these courses for the first time. That’s insane. The oddsmakers are obviously putting stock in local knowledge, posting him just behind favorite Harris English (Too Big to Fail), and lumping him with Kuchar and the rotting corpse that is Luke Donald’s game.
Jason Dufner (20/1) – He’s almost there – the guy might as well be playing with latex gloves, goggles, and a lab coat on, because he’s been in the lab for months. He was right in the mix last week before fading a bit on Sunday and this course rewards fairways and greens. That’s his secret concoction. Fairways and greens.
Webb Simpson (25/1) – Thrives on difficult tracks like this. In fact, hasn’t finished outside the top-17 here since 2009 (runner-up in 2011). Guy has a US Open, he’s at his best when the conditions are tough. Having a really solid 2014 too. Pretty good value here.
Pat Perez (50/1) – He’s been on siesta since Riv, per usual. His game was in form before the break and one shouldn’t expect that to change. It’s obvious he found something in his swing and he’s primed to win an event. He plays this event nearly every year, which has to say something about his affinity for the course, right? 7th here LY, we’ll take the DubP every week (on reasonable tracks) until he wins one this year.
Paul Casey (66/1) – Seems to me this would be a track that suits his game. He’s tidy. And his game is back on the upswing. Strong T-12 at Honda (72-68-69-67), could he be building for a second stint inside the OWGR top 20?
David Toms (80/1) – Showed well in PR last week (which was somewhat depressing – Toms is barely a notch below elder statesman), and has a decent track record here ( lit himself on fire in ’13, T-20th in ’12, T-37th in ’11 (was taking it deep before a final round 74), T-2oth in ’10 (2nd rd 63!), 33rd in ’09). We’ll take a flier – seemed like he had a little spring in his step last week after essentially playing the course blind and posting a blistering opening round.
Justin Leonard (100/1) – Another guy who’s been on holiday, having not played since the NTO, JLo’s enjoying a nice 2014 with a pair of top-10’s and seven made cuts in eight starts. Finished T4 here last year, and before that went T29, T20 and another T20 the previous three years, respectively. Another guy who seems to be at his best when the conditions worsen.
Matteo Manassero (100/1) – straight off the tee, great putter, thinking outside the box here. He’s playing this event for a reason. Time for him to make a mark stateside. The odds don’t necessarily translate to true talent level (aka value play!)
Peter Uihlein (100/1) – Heady young player who drives the ball well and is polished all-around. Thinking his third week in the states pays dividends and perhaps will be the catalyst for him to start playing over here more regularly. Had a pretty solid T25 last week at Doral.
Ricky Barnes (200/1) – Not much track record here (couple MC’s, T-28 a few years back) but this would seem like the type of course Ricky thrives on: a demanding course that punishes bad shots. Ricky can binge on birdies but isn’t liable to go low over four rounds (has shown more of an ability to do so over the last couple years, but still not his forte). 200/1 seems ripe. Played really well last week, too.
For most of the country, it’s starting to thaw. Get out of the crib, go buy a suitcase of cheap col’ beers (we’re thinking Busch Light, maybe even Original Coors – The Banquet Beer), and go play some golf. The weather is probably still relatively skanky, the course still in crappy shape from the winter, and your game is in even worse shape. But if it’s above freezing (or you live in Cali, Arizona, Texas, or the Southeast) you’re just happy to be out there. Record the tourney while you get some licks in, come back drunk, and flip on three hours of what’s sure to be half-assed NBC coverage from their “B” team this week.
- 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’s two of our favorites: The first one ideates on how Tampa won the 2017 National Championship Football Game and the second digs in on the Tampa area sports scene (although it somehow skips over this event).
- Okay, back to the Strip Clubs – if you float in certain circles you’re probably pretty familiar with this joint. It also featured prominently in Alan Shipnuck’s book detailing the ascendant late-nineties Rich Beem, as Beem’s then caddie, 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 Atlanta of the late-nineties). This place has quite the reputation. If you haven’t read Shipnuck’s Bud, Sweat, and Tees, do so ASAP. (Strangely enough it also features Westward Ho Golf Club up in the Dakota’s rather prominently, which was designed by one, Larry Packard).
- Word on the street is that NLU-favorite Kyle Stanley is experimenting with alternative putting methods (Kuchar method, specifically). The last 18 months or so have been a dark time for KFS fans. He’s combined the same exceptional ball-striking we’ve come to expect from him with putting stats that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy (well except maybe Gerry Lester Watson, Jr.). In Hilton Head last year we saw him knock it within eight feet on hole after hole, only to miss the putt. The frustration of rooting for one of the best compressers of the ball struggle to get it in the hole is unmatched in golf fandom. When the guy has an average putting week by tour standards, he’s finishing in the top 25. Would love to see him get it turned around and get hot again.
- The Florida swing seems longer than usual this year. It’s not. But it just seems like it is. No idea why. I wish we could just fast-forward to Augusta (or at least skip Houston).
- Quick note on the Euro event this week– it’s the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco. Wikipedia says that translates to Hassan II Golf Trophy. That’s the tournament’s name. Awesome. Only thing I’ve never been able to figure out, though, is what the winner gets.
- There’s a parallel universe somewhere in which this event is named the Dutchboy Championship. And instead of players being greeted by a gigantic snake as they enter the closing stretch of holes, it’s an oversized, bronzed statue of Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. Also, it’s really hard to use “valspar” as a verb – “Curt Schilling valspar’d his sock” just doesn’t have a good ring to it.
No doubt Schilling dutchboy’d his sock
- Koepka and Uihlein in the field this week (can’t blame them for not making the trip back to Europe from a couple solid weeks stateside, Uihlein at Honda and Cadillac/Koepka at Honda and PR). The Trophee Hassan version 2.0 just isn’t worth the aggravation. And if I had to guess, both of these guys will probably be at Bay Hill.