Temple to play AAC golf championship on tough PGA course

The Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, which hosted a PGA Tour event last month, will be the site of the American Athletic Conference championship from Sunday to Tuesday.

The 18th hole on the Copperhead Course at the Innisbrook Resort in Florida is part of "The Snake Pit," three holes where golfers are susceptible to recording bogeys. | COURTESY / INNISBROOK RESORT

At last month’s Valspar Championship on the PGA Tour, Patrick Reed was tied for the lead coming to the 18th hole.

He hit his final putt only to have the ball return back to his feet, knocking him out of contention at Innisbrook Golf Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida.

Temple will compete on the same 18-hole, 7,000-plus-yard course during the 2018 American Athletic Conference Men’s Golf Championship from Sunday to Tuesday.  

“There are four or five really tricky holes out there,” coach Brian Quinn said. “If you play smart and hit the shot you know you can and not the shot you think you can, I think you can have a good round of golf out there.”

Innisbrook will host The American’s championship for the third time in the past five years. Temple finished eighth out of nine teams in 2016 on the Quarry Course at Black Diamond Ranch in Lecanto, Florida, and placed last in 2017 on the Copperhead Course.

Temple’s starters for the championship will be senior Mark Farley, redshirt junior John Barone, junior Trey Wren, junior Gary McCabe and freshman Dawson Anders.

Anders has seven eagles this season, which is two behind the second-place player in Division I — Iowa State University redshirt senior Denzel Ieremia — according to Golfstat. Farley is making just his third start of the season.

“Mark leaves it all out on the golf course every day,” Quinn said. “Whatever he shoots out there I know will be the best round that he can shoot. When he is on, he plays exceptionally well. It’s his last tournament, and I am really happy he is going on the trip.”

South Florida, the No. 23 team in Friday’s Golf Coaches Association of America poll, has won the past three conference tournaments.

The Bulls won last year’s tournament by shooting 15 strokes better than second-place Houston. Their roster includes returning senior Cristian DiMarco, who is the son of three-time PGA tour winner Chris DiMarco. Cristian DiMarco finished second overall as an individual at last season’s tournament by shooting 1-under par.

Last year, the Bulls tied for 10th out of 14 teams at the NCAA regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after winning The American.

Course conditions might be affected by precipitation, as there is a 40 percent chance of rain on Sunday afternoon and a 60 percent chance of rain on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Ryan Stewart, who has overseen course operations for the Copperhead Course for 15 years, said drives will travel shorter distances when the fairways are damp because balls slow down due to increased moisture.

Golfers should aim their approach shots below the hole location to allow for an uphill putt on greens that tend to slope from back to front, Stewart said. Damp greens that slow putts down could help players, he added.

“You do not want to be above the hole because you will have tricky putts coming down and that leads to a lot of three putts,” Stewart said.

Holes 16-18 on the Copperhead Course are known as “The Snake Pit” because of their narrow fairways and tricky angles. The 16th hole has a water hazard along the right side of the fairway. Players try to hit their drives to the left of the water, but they sometimes overcompensate and hit their tee shots into the trees or rough, Stewart said.

The 475-yard, par-4 16th hole was ranked hardest during the Valspar Championship with an average score of 4.30. PGA players also recorded the most double-bogeys on the 16th hole.

“You will see the cream rise to the top here,” Quinn said. “The best players in the event will rise to the top because they play these holes better than anyone else.”

At the 2014 tournament, former Owl and current Web.com Tour player Brandon Matthews tied for fourth on the Copperhead Course. The 2016 adult and organizational development alumnus still stays in contact with members of the current team. Matthews said they can sometimes lose trust in their game, but he tells them “not to live and die by every shot.”

“You really have to think around the golf course well,” Matthews said. “You can get unhinged out there and it only takes one mental mistake.You have to miss in the right spots and that’s how you can play well.”   

The American championship will be Temple’s first event since the Princeton Invitational on April 6 and 7. Quinn scheduled the Owls to play in the Finegan Invitational on Monday at the Chester Valley Golf Course in Malvern, Pennsylvania, but rain forced the event to be canceled.

“I would be very proud of the kids if we were to finish fourth or fifth in the conference championship,” Quinn said. “It’s been a long spring with the poor weather, but I look forward to them trying to get better. We are in one of the strongest golf conferences in the country, and people need to understand that.”

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