Valspar’s Copperhead is ideal course for Chicago PGA Tour players

Life on the PGA Tour hasn’t been easy for the Chicago-connected players, but that could change this week.

Luke Donald, Doug Ghim, Nick Hardy, Kevin Streelman and Dylan Wu are all in the field for the Valspar Championship, the last of the four tournaments on the circuit’s Florida Swing.

With a paint company as the title sponsor, the Valspar bills itself as “the most colorful tournament on the PGA Tour’’ and it has some other unusual features.

All five courses at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, just outside of Tampa, were designed by legendary Chicago architect Larry Packard and the resort’s owner is Sheila Johnson, who went to Proviso East High School and the University of Illinois.

The Chicago fivesome  in the field will battle for a share of the $8.1 million in prize money when the tournament tees off on the Copperhead Course on Thursday. Donald (2012) and Streelman (2013) are past champions.

Only Wu, the former Northwestern star, has played well lately, however. Hardy has missed his last four cuts, Ghim has missed seven of his last eight and Streelman three of his last four.

Donald, 45, and Streelman, 44, are PGA veterans who won when the tournament had other names.  It was the Transitions Championship when Donald won and the Tampa Bay Championship when Streelman took the title.

Wu, though, has blossomed in the last two months.  He had strong finishes in his two starts in Florida, tying for 10th in the Honda Classic and tying for 35th at last week’s Players Championship.  He was the last player to make the field at The Players, getting in off his position on the FedEx Cup point list.

In addition to earning $114,166 in in one of golf’s best-playing tournaments Wu was up close to the excitement as Aaron Rai, his third-round playing partner, made one of the tourney’s three holes-in-one.

At the end of the 72 holes Wu matched the score of Sam Burns, who will be in the spotlight this week at Innisbrook.  Burns will be going after his third straight title on the Copperhead course.

Only nine players have won a PGA Tour event three straight years since World War II.  Tiger Woods did it four times at four different tournaments, last accomplishing the feat in 2007.  Arnold Palmer did it at two events in the 1960s.

Last player to notch a three-peat was Steve Stricker, who ruled the John Deere Classic from 2009-11. Other three-peaters since World War II were Gene Littler, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson and Stuart Appleby.

None of the Chicago fivesome has qualified for the Masters yet, and time is running out.  Each will probably have to win a tournament to play at the year’s first major tournament at Augusta National starting on April 6. The Valspar and Valero Texas Open are the only tournaments before then that advance champions to the Masters.

The Valspar has a stronger field than usual, despite the PGA Tour’s creation of “elevated’’ tournaments to lure the top stars.  Valspar is not an “elevated’’ event but this week’s field includes Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth. They have rarely competed in previous Valspars.

Thomas (PGA Championship) and Fitzpatrick (U.S. Open) will defend major titles later this year. Spieth, who has wins in the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, won the Valspar in 2015.

HERE AND THERE:  Mark Hensby, had wins at the Illinois State Amateur, Illinois Open and John Deere Classic earlier in his golf career.  Now, at 51, he’s making a splash on PGA Tour Champions.  Hensby tied for third in the Cologuard Classic in Arizona on Sunday, and that was his second top-three finish in three starts on the 50-and-over circuit in 2023.