Am Tour: Charming the Snake Pit at Innisbrook

By Brandon TuckerSeptember 16, 2016, 1:38 am

PALM HARBOR, Fla.  — Each year, the Golf Channel Am Tour National Championship venue features at least one course that has staged a top professional event, whether it’s been PGA West, TPC Sawgrass or Grayhawk Golf Club.

That’s been no different at Innisbrook Resort & Club, headlined by the Copperhead Course, host of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship. The layout is well known for its demanding finish, featuring two tough par 4s and a long par 3.

The Copperhead’s 16th, where the famed snake statue greets golfers, is well known on the PGA Tour as one of the more demanding par 4s, and that’s been no different at Am Tour, no matter which flight has seen the hole thus far.

In the 2016 Valspar Championship, the 16th, nicknamed "Moccasin," had a 4.32 stroke average, which was the most difficult par 4 on the course (the 3rd was second with a 4.24 avg).

In the 3rd round, it was the the Palmer flight navigating the Copperhead Course. I watched the final group, Josh Prok, Cole Philips and Dave Turpin play the back nine to see how their swings held up against the pressure. 

It was Turpin who walked a tight line on each hole. 

After Phillips hit first on 16 and found the water and Prok found trees left, Turpin's ball stayed dry by mere feet, thanks in part to a light breeze coming off the right. 

"It’s the toughest tee shot we have the entire tournament," said Turpin. “It's just one of those shots you have to make a swing. You can’t bail out into the trees."

He then stuck it stiff on 17, a dangerous par 3 with bunkers on each side of the green, for a tap-in birdie. But his drive on 18, which has bunkers both left and right, rolled close to a slope and he had a bad stance. He ultimately finished with a double bogey.

For Phillips, poor drives to the right on both 16 and 18 for led to double bogeys on each hole, and his 85 moved him two shots back of the lead.

Ultimately, it was Prok, whose 4-4-4 at the Snake Pit, which included a par save from the left trees on 16 and a striped drive down the middle on 18 that led to a low-stress par, that was the lowest of the group on the closing stretch. It, was enough for him to place in a tie for the lead heading into the final round.

For Turpin, his three-putt double bogey on 18 keeps him a shot off the pace. But despite the roller coaster, he had a smile on his face walking off the 18th.

"We treasure that," being an ex-athlete, it's neat to be almost 50 years old and get nervous over a golf shot.

"If it wasn't for [holes like] the 'Pit we probably wouldn’t do it." 

Missing your drive right on the 16th hole results in a penalty shot and a long, risky 3rd shot. 

Moccasin has the biggest bite

From the tee, the 16th is a very intimidating look: the fairway wraps to the right around a large pond, while trees line the entire left side (there are a few pines between the pond and left trees for good measure as well). The worst part about the drive is that if you block your tee shot, as we found with Phillips’ drive, you have to take your drop far back, too far to go for the green, and the layup isn’t easy either. After three rounds of the National Championships, the 16th has been the hole to deliver the most scorecard carnage. 

The Snead flight (20-plus handicaps) had a rough go of the hole to say the least, with an average score on the par 4 of 6.92 — easily the highest scoring average of any hole they've played so far after three rounds. The damage included 26 'others' on the scorecard.

In the Hogan flight (8.0-11.9 handicaps), the 16th had the highest stroke average (5.57) and most amount of others as well. In the Sarazen flight, the par-4 3rd hole was the toughest thanks to 31 'others' (this hole is the second toughest during the Valspar according to PGA Tour data) with the 16th a close second.

The Palmer flight, which has been the top flight to play Copperhead after three rounds, had a 5.33 stroke aveage on the hole (the highest of any par 4) and of the 119 players, 41 carded a double bogey or higher. There were only 9 'others' on 18, but 41 double bogeys gave it a slightly higher scoring average (5.36) than the 16th. 

In the final round, the Championship and Jones flight (16.0-19.9 handicaps) will play the Copperhead, and so we’ll get a chance to see how low-handicap leaders handle the pressure versus the bogey golfers.

Stage set for final round

In the six flights to be crowned after Round 4 action tomorrow, some are much tighter than others.

At 1-over, Gant Bills, from Plano, Texas is running away with the Championship flight, up five shots over Earl Morley, from Palm Desert, California.

In the Jones flight, Rick Burton, from Seymore, Ind. and won last year’s National Championship in the Snead flight, holds a four shot lead in the Jones flight.

It’s a two-horse race in the Sarazen flight (12.0-15.9 handicaps): Ross Gonzales and John Burton (son of Rick) are tied at the top, clear of the field by four shots. 

The Hogan flight, which is the largest of the flights this week, has seen some separation at the top: Nacho Orozco, from San Antonio, Texas holes a two shot over Troy Slate, from Canton, Georgia. Allen Chisholm, from Charlotte, has some work to do, five shots off the lead.

Lastly, it's anyone’s game in the competitive Palmer flight. It’s a three-way tie between Michael Rizarri, Joshua Prok and Donnie Hankins, but Turpin is just a shot back and six more players are within three shots of the leaders.

Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships: Leaderboard | Full Coverage


Getty Images

Lewis says she's expecting first child in November

By Randall MellApril 27, 2018, 2:18 am

Stacy Lewis is pregnant.

The 12-time LPGA winner confirmed after Thursday’s first round of the Mediheal Championship that she and her husband, University of Houston women’s golf coach Gerrod Chadwell, are expecting their first child on Nov. 3.

Lewis learned she was pregnant after returning home to Houston in late February following her withdrawal from the HSBC Women’s World Championship with a strained oblique muscle.

“We're obviously really excited,” Lewis said. “It wasn't nice I was hurt, but it was nice that I was home when I found out with [Gerrod]. We're just really excited to start a family.”

Lewis is the third big-name LPGA player preparing this year to become a mother for the first time. Suzann Pettersen announced last month that she’s pregnant, due in the fall. Gerina Piller is due any day.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship

Piller’s husband, PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, withdrew from the Zurich Classic on Thursday to be with her. Piller and Lewis have been U.S. Solheim Cup partners the last two times the event has been played.

“It's going to be fun raising kids together,” Lewis said. “Hopefully, they're best friends and they hang out. But just excited about the next few months and what it's going to bring.”

Lewis, a former Rolex world No. 1 and two-time major championship winner, plans to play through the middle of July, with the Marathon Classic her last event of the year. She will be looking to return for the start of the 2019 season. The LPGA’s maternity leave policy allows her to come back next year with her status intact.

“This year, the golf might not be great, but I've got better things coming in my life than a golf score.” Lewis said. “I plan on coming back and traveling on the road with the baby, and we'll figure it out as we go.”

Getty Images

Coach scores in NFL Draft and on golf course

By Grill Room TeamApril 27, 2018, 1:47 am

To say that Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had a good day Thursday would be an understatement. Not only did his team snag one of the top defensive players in the NFL Draft - Georgia outside linebacker Roquan Smith, who the Bears took with the eighth pick of the first round - but earlier in the day Fangio, 59, made a hole-in-one, sinking a 9-iron shot from 125 yards at The Club at Strawberry Creek in Kenosha, Wis.

Perhaps the ace isn't so surprising, though. In late May 2017, Fangio made another hole-in-one, according to a tweet from the Bears. The only information supplied on that one was the distance - 116 yards.

Getty Images

Gooch chooses 'life over a good lie' with gators nearby

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:31 pm

AVONDALE, La. – A fairway bunker wasn’t Talor Gooch’s only hazard on the 18th hole at TPC Louisiana.

Gooch’s ball came to rest Thursday within a few feet of three gators, leading to a lengthy delay as he sorted out his options.

Chesson Hadley used a rake to nudge two of the gators on the tail, sending them back into the pond surrounding the green. But the third gator wouldn’t budge.

“It woke him up from a nap,” Gooch said, “and he was hissing away and wasn’t happy.”

The other two gators remained in the water, their eyes fixed on the group.

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

“I’m sure we would have been fine, but any little movement by them and no chance I would have made solid contact,” he said.

A rules official granted Gooch free relief, away from the gator, but he still had to drop in the bunker. The ball plugged.

“I chose life over a good lie in that situation,” he said.

He splashed out short of the green, nearly holed out his pitch shot and made par to cap off an eventful 6-under 66 with partner Andrew Landry.

“It was my first gator par,” he said. “I’ll take it.”

Getty Images

Koepka's game 'where it should be' even after injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 11:18 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Brooks Koepka didn’t look rusty Thursday while making six birdies in the first round of the Zurich Classic.

Making his first start in four months because of a torn ligament in his left wrist, Koepka and partner Marc Turnesa shot a 5-under 67 in fourballs at TPC Louisiana.

“It felt good,” Koepka said afterward. “It was just nice to be out here. I played pretty solid.”

Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos

The reigning U.S. Open champion felt soreness in his wrist the week after he won the Dunlop Phoenix in the fall. He finished last at the Hero World Challenge in December and then the following month at the Tournament of Champions before shutting it down.

He only began practicing last week and decided to commit to the Zurich Classic after three solid days at Medalist. He decided to partner with one of his friends in South Florida, Marc Turnesa, a former PGA Tour winner who now works in real estate.

Koepka hasn’t lost any distance because of the injury – he nearly drove the green on the 355-yard 16th hole. He’s planning to play the next two weeks, at the Wells Fargo Championship and The Players.

“I feel like I’m playing good enough to be right where I should be in April,” he said. “I feel good, man. There’s nothing really wrong with my game right now.”