Tournament Preview Valspar Championship

2021 Valspar Championship Tournament Preview: Everything You Need To Know About Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) Before Tee Off

Paint it black, we are back to the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course! Just 29 players finished in the red, under par the last time this event was contested in 2019, so they will quite literally be painting the leaderboard black this week at one of the most difficult tracks we see year to year on the PGA Tour in the Valspar Championship.

Personally, I’m more of a Sherwin Williams guy. Fun story about Sherwin Williams, back in 2018, I worked on promoting the Cleveland Browns season of Hard Knocks. This was the summer LeBron James left Cleveland for Los Angeles and the city of Cleveland decided they would finally be taking down the famous LeBron Banner on the façade of Sherwin Williams’ headquarters. Fortuitous timing for us to jump in for the changing of the guard in Cleveland Sports. After all, Baker Mayfield had just been drafted #1 overall and it seemed the paradigm of Cleveland Sports may have been shifting to football. So, we reached out to none other than Sherwin Williams to negotiate real estate. We had no idea what to expect, but what we learned was that Nike had purchased the wall space long term. The wall was going to remain blank until Nike solidified their next promotion, so we figured promoting Hard Knocks would act as a nice bridge in between, and so it became a three way negotiation between HBO, Nike, and Sherwin Williams. Problem was, we were more or less hoping they’d let us do this pro bono as a gesture for the city. Nike however was asking us to pay them $1 Million to post for a few weeks. Not exactly seeing eye-to-eye between our two stances, we opted for Plan B: Pretend we actually did buy the wall and feature a CGI Banner in the intro. This was the final product:

But I digress, getting back to the task at hand with this second-fiddle paint sponsor, the Valspar Championship is going to offer up a very tough test for the field this week. This is annually one of the most difficult courses to hit Greens In Regulation on, and players have historically hit fairways below the Tour average, despite being forced to club down on several tightly contoured doglegs. The steep elevation changes will also present challenges for players forced to manage distance control and blind approach shots, which should in theory favor players with some experience on these grounds.

Paul Casey is looking to become the first player to win the same tournament in three consecutive contests since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic from 2009-2011. Over the last 6 years, there have actually been 9 other successful title defenses in addition to Paul Casey’s at the Valspar Championship in 2019: Brooks Koepke at the PGA Championship and US Open, Brendan Steele at the Safeway Open, Jhonattan Vegas at the RBC Canadian Open, Daniel Berger at the WGC FedEx St. Jude, Hideki Matsuyama at the WMPO, Justin Thomas at the CIMB Classic, Matt Every at the API, and Jimmy Walker at the Sony Open.

Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead) Course Specs

  • Yards: 7,209
  • Par: 71 (5x 3’s / 9x 4’s / 4x 5’s)
  • Greens: Bermuda
  • Architect: Larry Packard & Jerry Pate
  • Historic Cut Line: +3
  • Comp Courses: TPC Twin Cities, Muirfield Village, Torrey Pines, Riviera CC, PGA National
  • Recent Past Winners: Paul Casey (19, 18), Adam Hadwin (17), Charl Schwartzel (16), Jordan Spieth (15)
  • Other Past Winners In The Field: Kevin Streelman (13), Luke Donald (12), Gary Woodland (11), Sean O’Hair (08) KJ Choi (06, 02)

This is not your typical 7,200 yard Par 71 course. It is very rare to find a track that features five Par 3s, so combining that with the four Par 5s, we’re left with only half of the holes being Par 4s. Even still, the course is not especially long, but with several holes playing due uphill, it will play longer than it looks, and many players will struggle to reach these Par 5s in two.

Paul Casey has clearly dominated this event over the last two contests, but Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed, Ryan Moore, Charl Schwartzel, Jason Kokrak, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charles Howell III have also had steady success here since 2015, each carrying multiple T10 finishes over their last 5 trips.

In terms of course comps, I’m looking very closely at other tracks where Scoring has been difficult, fairways are tough to hit, and greens are challenging to reach in regulation, forcing strong ARG and Scrambling to avoid bogeys. That screams Torrey Pines to me, so I’ll be eying reigning Farmers Insurance Open champion Patrick Reed, who’s finished Runner up here twice in his last 5 starts. Viktor Hovland and Ryan Palmer also looked strong at the Farmers a few months ago, so I’ll be giving them a close look as well.

Key Stats

  • Par 5 Scoring / Par 5: 550-600
  • SG: APP
  • SG: ARG / Scrambling
  • Bogey Avoidance
  • SG: TOT (Difficult Scoring Conditions)
  • SG: Putting (Bermuda)
  • Course History

Stats To Avoid

  • Par 4: 450-500
  • SG: OTT

It may be bold to say SG: OTT doesn’t matter here, especially when the two-time-defending champion Paul Casey ranks 50th on Tour L50 rounds SG: OTT, but the truth is he’s been winning here despite his Driver. There are a number of doglegs and forced lay up holes on this track that require players to take less than driver, resulting in a precipitous drop in Average Driving Distance from the benchmark 283 yard average down to 271 yards here. And despite players clubbing down more off the tee, they’re still missing these tight fairways, reaching 61% of Fairways, just below the Tour average of 62%. So if players aren’t able to bomb and gauge here and layups off the tee still struggle to hold the fairways, it should be no surprise that SG: OTT ranks out pretty inconsequential here, as the 19th ranked stat correlated with SG: TOT at Innisbrook, compared to its average rank of 8th.

One of the most interesting data points this week is that despite there being an extra 5th Par 3 hole on this course, the importance of Par 3 Scoring at Copperhead ranks lower (16th) than its Tour Average importance (13th). Why? They’re all so damn difficult! They’re long, the greens are small, firm, and hard to hold, and they’re all either surrounded by thick rough or water. Players will strictly be looking to survive the 5 Par 3s this week, so with scarce Birdie opportunities, I won’t be weighting Par 3 scoring too heavily in my research this week.

So, if OTT doesn’t really matter and neither do Par 3 Scoring, then what are we looking for this week? First and foremost, I’m going to be putting a premium on Par 5 Scoring, which jumps from the usual 11th most important stat on average, all the way up to 4th at this event. When scoring gets tough, you have to take advantage of the Par 5s, and despite this being a Par 71, this course still gives the players 4 chances to cash in on the Par 5s. Despite winning this event the last two years, Paul Casey rates out 20th SG: TOT at Valspar over the last 9 years, however the one category he rates out #1 in at Valspar is Par 5 Scoring. Coming into this event in 2019, Casey also rated out #1 Par 5 Scoring over his previous 36 rounds. 2 years later, and that top honor in Par 5 Scoring belongs to Max Homa. Ryan Palmer, Corey Conners, Brandt Snedeker, and Luke List also round out the Top 5.

There are just 6 players in the field this week who rank above-average in each of the above key stat categories I’m eying this week: Chris Kirk, Charley Hoffman, Cameron Tringale, Justin Thomas, Jason Kokrak, and Danny Willet. Willet’s the biggest surprise here, but he has quietly been hitting his stride in recent weeks, ranking 9th in Par 5 Scoring and T30 in Scrambling, Bogey Avoidance, and SG: TOT.

Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT
Top 10 Correlated Stats with SG: TOT at Valspar

The Par 4s this week are heavily concentrated in in the 400-450 yard range, which is a bit unusual, as we typically see a majority of Par 4s in the 450-500 yard range. I’m also not including Birdies and Birdies or Better Gained in my models this week, because Birdie opportunities will be so scarce.

To summarize this week, I’m looking for players who will take advantage of scoring on the Par 5s, have proven to compete in difficult Scoring conditions, and are strong in SG: APP and SG: ARG. There are 9 players who rank T50 in each of those categories: Justin Thomas, Paul Casey, Charley Hoffman, Chris Kirk, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Tringale, Jason Kokrak, John Huh and Max Homa.

What To Look Out For at the 2021 Valspar Championship

Golf: Casey defends Valspar Championship with one-shot victory | Reuters

Paul Casey got his first Valspar Championship win in 2018, and coverage this week will focus around his quest to make that three straight victories here in 2021. It’s a relatively stronger field than we’re typically used to seeing at this event, highlighted by world #1 & #2 Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. They’ll be joined by Patrick Reed, Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland, and Tyrrell Hatton at the top of the board when odds open on Monday.

I expect Jason Kokrak to be a popular play this week, given he has 3 T10s in his last 4 starts and 3 T10s in his last 5 appearances at the Valspar Championship. In the last two years since this event was played, Kokrak has completely revamped his Short Game, flipping it from a liability to a strength, so I’ll be looking to have exposure to him this week for sure.

This week I’m looking for players who are excel in Par 5 Scoring, Approach, and Scrambling/SG: ARG to avoid Bogeys. With those key stats in mind, here’s an early look at the players I’ll be targeting by projected pricing/odds tier.

  • Tier 1 (<20/1, $10K+): Paul Casey, Justin Thomas
  • Tier 2 (20-39/1, $9K): Patrick Reed, Ryan Palmer, Tyrrell Hatton, Louis Oosthuizen, Charley Hoffman, Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Viktor Hovland
  • Tier 3 (40-69/1, $8K): Max Homa, Jason Kokrak, Abraham Ancer, Scottie Scheffler, Cameron Tringale
  • Tier 4 (70-100/1, $7K): Brandt Snedeker, Danny Willett, Adam Hadwin, Lanto Griffin, Sam Ryder, Kevin Streelman, Patton Kizzire
  • Tier 5 (>100/1, $6K): Chase Seiffert, Alex Noren, Denny McCarthy, John Huh, Bo Hoag, Luke List, Roger Sloan

Interestingly enough, despite not including Course History in my models, Paul Casey still ranked out #1 for me this week, so I expect him to make a concerted push for the three-peat. Being a 2-time defending champion is rare, but I think it takes the pressure off from a usual title defense and should bring a special aura of confidence. Cameron Tringale, Chris Kirk, Corey Conners, Charley Hoffman, Viktor Hovland, Jason Kokrak, Max Homa, Abraham Ancer, and Louis Oosthuizen round out the Top 10 in my model this week.