By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
TPC Blue Monster last week, the Copperhead Course this week. The past two events of the “Florida Swing” on the PGA TOUR have had the competitors testing their skills on golf courses with reptilian leanings. Both venues certainly have a fair amount of bite but the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort is perennially more vicious thanks to a stretch of the three homeward holes known as the “Snake Pit.”
At 460 yards, No. 16 (The Moccasin) is a bruiser of a dogleg-right par 4. It is flanked by trees on the left and a water hazard on the right that stretches all the way to the green. Sneak past No. 16 unscathed and an uphill 215-yard par 3 (The Rattler) with a narrow green surrounded by deep bunkers awaits golfers. After navigating The Rattler safely, competitors are faced with the tough par-4 18th (The Copperhead). A tight, uphill hole with an unforgiving green, No. 18 measures 445 yards and is as daunting a closing hole as any on TOUR.
So to win the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank, the contenders not only have to outwit and outplay their competitors, they have to survive the gauntlet that the Snake Pit presents. Its challenge is best qualified by 2011 champion, Gary Woodland: “If you’re two back and have signed your scorecard and the leaders are still out there, you’re definitely hanging around to see what happens.”
After posting a 63 and an 8 under total for the championship, Boo Weekley had to hang around to see how the leaders would navigate the Snake Pit and I am sure that he liked his chances. All manner of challengers came up short but in the end Kevin Streelman played the Snake Pit in 1 under and in doing so he doubled his one-stroke lead and recorded his first win on the PGA TOUR.
So what can we learn from Streelman’s trip to the winner’s circle at Innisbrook? In my opinion, there are a few things and once again, proficient putting is one of them -- Streelman ranked third in the all-important strokes gained-putting statistic. So go and work on your putting.
Secondly, you must keep a positive attitude and never give up no matter the circumstances. In 2007, Streelman was battling the odds at the first stage of q-school. For all intents and purposes, with about six holes to play, it looked as if he was going to miss advancing to the second stage. Well, we all know that in golf things can change in an instant -- such is the nature of our great game. All of a sudden the momentum swung and Streelman birdied four of his last five holes to qualify. Now, six short years later he is a PGA TOUR champion. Oftentimes, it appears as if the odds are stacked against you and failure is imminent. At that time, remind yourself to stick to your guns, stay positive and keep swinging with conviction and self-belief as you never know when the tide can turn. As the great Jim Valvano once said: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”
Thirdly, it is crucial to trust yourself and your game when the chips are down. Streelman hit one of the shots of the tournament when he “held” a faded 5-iron up against the right-to-left breeze on the par-3 13th hole. The super-gutsy (the hole was cut close to the water on the right of the green) and impressive shot was one that Streelman had been working on and by his own admission his trust and belief in the things he and his coach were working on were key to him attempting and pulling off the shot. For the record, the iron shot translated into a birdie 2, which served as a platform to him closing out the win.
So learn from the likeable Duke graduate. … Always stay positive, never give up and trust your technique. After all, what good is it to work hard at something and then not trust it and attempt it under pressure? As Streelman’s coach, Darren, said to him: “When you pull it off on Sunday it will be a good shot.”
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.