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Tampa’s Jackson Suber ready for PGA debut at Valspar Championship

The Plant High alumnus, now a senior at Ole Miss, is one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions.
Ole Miss' Jackson Suber has continued to fine-tune his game as one of the nation's top collegiate golfers. The Plant High alumnus will make his Valspar Championship debut this week.
Ole Miss' Jackson Suber has continued to fine-tune his game as one of the nation's top collegiate golfers. The Plant High alumnus will make his Valspar Championship debut this week. [ MATTHEW HINTON | Associated Press (2021) ]
Published Mar. 15

PALM HARBOR — Jackson Suber has always been in control of his golf career. After picking up the clubs at 7 years old, he undertook the responsibility of signing himself up for tournaments when he started playing competitively at 11.

It should be no surprise that Suber did the same thing for the Valspar Championship, pitching himself to tournament director Tracy West and the PGA event’s board members to secure a spot among the competitive field of 144.

Suber’s pitch last year was impressive, but the Tampa native needed improvement in his game before walking on the big stage. West was more than happy to deliver better news this year.

On Thursday, Suber will make his PGA Tour debut on Innisbrook’s Copperhead course, which has about as much of a hometown feel as possible for the Plant High alumnus who grew up swinging on the grounds at Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

“It means everything,” said Suber, 22. “It’s the dream spot for a PGA Tour debut for me. To have so many friends and family that are going to be out there, it’s going to be a really special place to make it.”

Last year as a junior at Ole Miss, Suber visited the Copperhead course and expressed interest in competing with the possibility of getting tagged as a sponsor exemption.

West said Suber stood out because the Plant High Class 3A state champion pitched himself. Typically, she’ll hear from a manager or agent in these situations.

“The thing about golf is you are what you shoot,” Suber said. “Your scores are out there and you really can’t say anything otherwise … but it was more of a get to know you.”

In high school, Jackson Suber helped the Plant boys golf team win the Class 3A state championship.
In high school, Jackson Suber helped the Plant boys golf team win the Class 3A state championship. [ Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

Suber worked on his game with coach Chris Malloy and the rest of the Ole Miss staff while keeping in touch with West for future opportunities.

In the fall, Suber approached West and the tournament staff again. They spent more than an hour talking about the year and his career goals. He also learned more about the selection process, which West said entails about 150 other applicants competing for one the eight spots offered.

By the end of the semester, Suber had worked himself up to No. 8 on the PGA Tour’s university global rankings and secured his third career individual win (at the White Sands Invitational with a three-day score of 11-under 205). He was ready for the big stage.

“We’re really excited to be able to give him the opportunity,” West said. “I think he’s super excited.”

Before Suber left school last week, Malloy offered a few words of advice, particularly about not overthinking things or getting distracted by outside factors like the crowd size or magnitude of the moment.

“He’s a world-class player,” Malloy said, “and I know he’s ready for this stage. ...

“Whether it’s the first first round of the Valspar Championship, whether it’s the first round of the Cabo Collegiate … whether it’s the first round of the NCAA championship, it’s golf.”

Luckily for Suber, he has played the course 15 times throughout his amateur career, including at least one junior tournament. Growing up in Tampa, he made it out to the Valspar Championship with his family to watch some of the game’s greats for a few years, too.

In 2016, the Suber family saw Dunedin native Lee McCoy, a sponsor exemption at the time, work his way up the leaderboard and finish fourth at the Valspar Championship, shooting 4-under 280, one of the best amateur finishes in nearly two decades.

Suber, then 16, had all of the inspiration he needed.

“I think he saw that and was like, ‘Gosh, maybe I would be able to do that one day,’” said Suber’s mother, Elayne. “And that’s when I guess he felt like he had the confidence to do it.”

Suber doesn’t like to set unrealistic goals for himself. This week, he isn’t determining his success on making the cut or getting to a certain position.

“It’s more just making sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do out there,” he said. “And going through my same process and treating it like a normal golf tournament.”

He also is looking forward to taking in the entire experience — learning from the world-class field while navigating through the “demanding” course that often requires good ball striking off the tees.

“This is just what every golfer kind of dreams to do their whole life,” Suber said. “Just the whole opportunity, the whole experience is just incredible.”

Valspar Championship

Thursday-Sunday, Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, Palm Harbor

Gates open at 7 a.m. all week.

TV: 2-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel; 1-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel; 3-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, NBC

More: Tickets and other info, visit valsparchampionship.com

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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