The PGA Tour's recent string of brutally difficult courses continues this week with the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Kevin Streelman is the defending champ at the course that boasts "The Snake Pit" -- arguably the most challenging three-hole closing stretch on Tour.
Before the start of the Valspar Championship, we had a chance to chat with Innisbrook Resort PGA Director of Golf Rodney Green for a little Q&A. Green talked about the strong international field assembled at Innisbrook, explained what makes the Snake Pit so challenging and more.
PGA.com: The Valspar Championship really sticks out as one of those events on the PGA Tour each year that features a spectacular international field. Why is that?
Green: Every year, the PGA Tour offers stronger competition for international players. So, subsequently week after week, we're seeing more international winners and contenders. And, as Copperhead is not a typical Florida -- or even American -- course, we tend to draw some of the finest players from around the world. Of course, the money available on the PGA Tour certainly makes it worthwhile for players to try their hand in the U.S., including establishing a permanent home here.
PGA.com: Let's talk about your defending champion, Kevin Streelman, for a minute. He's a player who knocked on the door many times before kicking it in and winning last year. What was it like to see a guy who's come close so many times before finally break through and win?
Green: I met Kevin last year on the range on Sunday morning before the final round, and he is so nice and humble. His story is actually typical of many players who are on tour. Aside from the biggest names, everybody else is struggling to get in the win column. Kevin won the old-fashioned way, with hard work, patience and perseverance. He's proof that nice guys don't always finish last.
PGA.com: The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is truly one of those courses where even the best players in the world are going to need every club in their bags. What is it about the Copperhead that causes that to happen?
Green: We hear so many great things about Copperhead from all the players. Our course designer, the late Larry Packard, designed all four courses at Innisbrook to be: "the ultimate test of fair."
In my conversations with him, he talked about designing a course where you had to use every club in your bag, and the Copperhead does just that. Thanks to Larry Packard.
PGA.com: Many have said that the closing three holes at Innisbrook -- the Snake Pit -- are among the three most treacherous closing holes on Tour. Why?
Green: The Snake Pit provides a combination of three difficult, but different holes.
It starts with No. 16, which is a 475-yard par 4. However, it presents a very challenging tee shot. There's water all the way down the right side and trees on the left. There's no bail out; it's fairway or bust!
While No. 17 can look like a straightforward par 3, at 215 yards, length can cause a problem. Then, on Sunday, the pin is typically placed at the back right of the green. This brings the right front bunker into play, and most guys will play for the center of the green, take two putts and be happy with par.
The finishing hole is an uphill 445-yard par 4. Bunkers guard the left side while trees protect the right. It's a hole that usually only yields a 9-iron or less for the approach, but the green is very big and severely undulated. So the key here is sticking your approach shot in a position on the green that won't set up a 3 putt. It's amazing how hard it is to 2-putt from 20 feet for a million dollars!
PGA.com: What's the best part about tournament week for you, Rodney?
Green: Actually, it's really tournament month for us at Innisbrook. We've been very focused since February 1 and working very hard on making a great impression on our new sponsors, Valspar. There are so many great things happening at the resort during tournament week. We have three other courses that will be very busy, the resort will be sold out and the restaurants will be full. Would it be inappropriate for me to say that the best part of the week for me will be Sunday afternoon? Just kidding! I love having the top players in the world here, and you can often find me early and late in the day on the driving range watching golf swings from the best players on Tour. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.