PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The PGA Tour event at Innisbrook has gone by six names since it began in 2000, and while it has four title sponsors since then, it held a unique distinction as never having a sponsor that renewed its contract.
That changed on Wednesday when Minneapolis-based Valspar Corp. extended its contract through 2020. The original deal was to end next year.
"The return that we're getting on the advertising, which is measurable, the return that we're getting through new customer relationships and enabling expanded customer relationships ... you do that, and this has been a very positive return for Valspar shareholders," Valspar chairman and chief executive Gary Hendrickson said. "That's what we had hoped when we signed the agreement and that's the way it's proved to be."
Valspar also said it would remain an official marketing partner with the tour, and this year it began to sponsor the "Caddie Hat Program," in which caddies who wear the Valspar logo on their caps get a bonus depending on how their player performs.
Jay Monahan, the tour's deputy commissioner, added a personal touch to the announcement.
Monahan said his aunt, Sue Rooney, was a volunteer at the tournament for 13 years. She died in July. He said the Monahan clan used to spend July in a house next to hers, and she was concerned in 2013 when the Tampa event was without a title sponsor and its prospects looked bleak.
"Every day she would ask me where we were with the title sponsors," Monahan said. "She's looking down upon us all with a big smile today."
INNISBROOK NEWCOMER: Graeme McDowell never played the Valspar Championship because he already was playing the other three PGA Tour events in Florida. But when he wasn't eligible for Doral late last year, and because he had heard good things about Innisbrook, he decided to enter.
He wound up getting into Doral and stuck to his plan.
"Decided after my practice round here a couple weeks ago that I liked the golf course and I was going to come play, anyway," he said.
McDowell said he likes a course that is more about position than length, and he took note of the recent winners — Jordan Spieth, John Senden, Kevin Streelman and Luke Donald the last four years, with the occasional big hitter (Gary Woodland, Vijay Singh) also winning.
"I look at the list of winners and I always see ball-strikers, guys that really hit it good, hit it pure, lot of medium and long iron play here and a lot of accuracy with your iron play," McDowell said. "Iron play is going to be a big key, and I like the way it sets up from my point of view."
GREEN JACKET: Whenever he opens his closet, Jordan Spieth realizes he's getting closer to having to leave his green jacket at Augusta National.
Only the current Masters champion can take his green jacket with him, and Spieth said he takes his with him the majority of the time, especially of late. But it's when he sees it in the closet that recalls how cool it was to win the Masters — and why he wants to win it again.
"I go in the closet to grab something, I see the jacket or I see even the garment bag that says, 'Masters Champion, 2015,' something like that. It's just like: 'That's mine. Oh, shoot, I've got to give that back. Oh, wait, let's try to get this back in our hands.'
"It was fun having it with me this last year," he said. "I don't want it to stay on the grounds."
BUSY SCHEDULE: Graeme McDowell played only one tournament over six weeks, and that was in Dubai.
He'll be making up for lost time.
From the Honda Classic through possibly the Valero Texas Open, the only tournament he plans to skip is the Shell Houston Open a week before the Masters. That would amount to seven tournaments in eight weeks, and McDowell is just fine with that.
"I'm playing a lot of golf right now," he said. "Looking forward to it. I'm enjoying my golf. I read a quote from Phil (Mickelson) that he's loving the game. I'm kind of there as well. I'm enjoying playing the game. Last year, I think I was feeling tough and frustrated and panicking a little bit. And this year, I'm actually enjoying it and enjoying being on the golf course again, which is nice."