Transitions Championship – Innisbrook – Tarpon Springs, FL           

The Transitions Championship (a few other sponsors also) has been coming to Innisbrook since 2000 and prior to that the Mixed Team PGA/LPGA was held here in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was a lot of fun back then, still challenging, but it was the off season and a chance to make a little Christmas money. Now the course has been redesigned (1999), lengthened, and toughened up enough that a major could be staged here.

During the Mixed Team we were gathered around VCR’s watching a Jerry Springer show depicting the first professional caddy ever to undergo a sex change operation, how appropriate for that event. We also had to bail a couple of players out of jail but we won’t go there either. Today the boys are grinding, trying to make Augusta if not already in, and looking to conquer the ninth most difficult course on tour. This is the first week in Florida caddies will use their range finder’s elevation change mechanism, Innisbrook looks like it should be in the Carolinas. There are 100 foot elevation changes throughout the course, something very unusual for a Florida tract.

If the USGA wanted they could host an Open here, the course is that difficult, and with the swirling winds it gets downright ugly in the afternoon sometimes. A couple years ago we walked off the eighteenth Friday morning wondering if we made the cut, by the end of the day we were tied for 32nd. The wind howled and we moved up over forty spots while sitting at Hooters, one of the original seven, across from the main entrance. Bring the fairways in a bit, manufacture some rough, up the stimp reading, convert a par five to a four, and par would be a good Copperhead score.  

Innisbrook with 72 holes of all types of golf is a great vacation spot, corporate getaway, or family weekend. There are lodges, condos, cabins, and rooms stretching throughout the complex and if you want to get away to old Florida drive about thirty minutes north on 17, you’ll directly in farm country. The Gulf Coast provides all sorts of activities if you want time away from golf but you really don’t need to leave the resort.

With the difficulty of the course look for someone who has patience, long and straight off the tee, and a good par putter. That usually works at any course but especially here. Also, if you can flight the ball below the tree line that takes the wind out of the ballgame, a distinct advantage, so look for a veteran ball striker this week.

Steve Stricker, my favorite and probably everyone’s this week, is ready for a win and he’s played well here in the past. A couple of hot guys at the moment and maybe a bit under the radar are Jason Dufner, a great ball striker and wind player, plus Chris Dimarco the straightest driver on tour. Retief Goosen is defending champion and always plays well on Open like courses, throw him in the mix, and beware of Dustin Johnson if the driver isn’t erratic.

It’s a strong field, there are about forty guys who could win and this course doesn’t favor any particular type of player. There are a variety of past champions and this week there will be a bunch of great golfers gathered at the top of the leader board still in single digits. It’s the toughest stop on the Florida swing watch out for a four or five man playoff on Sunday.  

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