PALM HARBOR — Jason Kokrak remembers all too well where he was when the world nearly stopped last March.
“It went from basically, at The Players Championship we were playing, fans everywhere, big crowds, especially at The Players, and went from there to no fans to canceling the golf tournament within a day,” Kokrak said of the shutdown due to the pandemic. “Everything changed really fast.”
Now, nearly a year later, it’s been “great,” Kokrak said, to get back to some normalcy.
With the 2020 Valspar Championship tournament also canceled, Kokrak, who finished tied for second at the 2019 tournament, looks forward to returning to Innisbrook Golf Resort for the PGA Tour event April 29-May 2.
Here are five things to know about the Valspar Championship:
Limited number of fans allowed
Tournament director Tracy West announced Monday that the Valspar Championship will host limited fans this year, 20-30 percent of their available capacity. Tickets will be sold through Ticketmaster, starting March 25 at noon.
Additionally, 1,500 complimentary tickets will be distributed to veterans and a guest, courtesy of Pinch-A-Penny and an anonymous donor, West added.
A final figure on just how many fans will be in attendance has not been set, but West said they’ll know that number closer to the start of the tournament as they continue to abide by state, county and PGA guidelines.
The field will be competitive
With the Valspar Championship starting seven weeks later than normal, the field opens up more possibilities for better competition.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has already committed to the tournament, along with Brooks Koepka (12), back-to-back reigning Valspar champion Paul Casey (18), Ryan Palmer (26), Kokrak (31), Carlos Ortiz (44) and Lanto Griffin (50).
Other notable commitments include Jason Dufner, Si Woo Kim, Brandt Snedeker, Kevin Streelman, Erik van Rooyen and Bubba Watson.
“I think it’s going to be a great field,” Kokrak said. “Dustin’s playing some unbelievable golf. ... He’s No. 1 in the world right now, and there’s a reason for that. I’m interested to see how him and Brooks play around this golf course. It’s a tough venue and a golf course that can get under your skin quick.”
To win again, Casey will have to go through Kokrak
Kokrak says he is ready to take down Casey in this year’s tournament.
Casey is the reigning champion after wins in 2018 and 2019 (remember, the tournament was canceled in 2020). Meanwhile, Kokrak tied for eighth in 2018 and second in 2019.
Kokrak’s expectations for the event?
“Take down Paul Casey,” he said. “Maybe I’ll strong-arm him on the range or something like that.”
Health and safety protocols are a priority
In addition to limited fans, the Valspar Championship is making an effort to create a safer environment around the tournament.
Those protocols include:
- Cashless/digital pairings guide event
- Hand-washing and sanitizing stations throughout the course and property
- Temperature check and short questionnaire at the entrance gate
- Masks required at all times (indoors and outdoors), with the exception of when actively eating or drinking
- Reduced hospitality capacities
- Daily/nightly sanitization of high-touch surfaces, buses, restrooms and venues
- Signage throughout the course to remind those in attendance of guidelines
Contests aim to brighten Tampa Bay communities
Valspar, the tournament’s sponsor, is hosting a social media mural contest to brighten up a location in the Tampa Bay area.
The company’s “Back to Bright” campaign will enlist a local artist, Zulu Painter, to paint a mural in the winning Tampa Bay location.
Those interested can enter an area by sending a video with the hashtag “#ValsparBackToBright.” The contest runs through Sunday. The winner will be announced on March 10, and the mural will be revealed in mid-April.
A PGA player will have the chance to brighten up a community, too. Valspar will have a display with 156 paint cans, one for every pro, on the 18th tee back. At the beginning of the week, each player will sign his own can, one of which holds the winning ticket.
On April 28, the winner will be revealed, and that player will get to select any community of their choosing for Valspar to paint, also enlisting a local muralist from that area.