If there is such a thing as home course advantage, Lee McCoy has it.
“There is definitely an aura to this place,” the Dunedin native said while driving along the cart path of the 14th hole of the Copperhead course at Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor. “It’s so familiar to me because I’ve felt it for the last 15 years.”
Since he was a grade-school golfer, McCoy has had a love for the Copperhead course. He used to ride his bicycle to the course after school and scan the tee sheet for threesomes that needed a fourth player.
“It’s the only way I could play,” McCoy joked. “They sure weren’t giving me a cart.”
He made his way onto the course “at least 500 times” over the years and returns this week for the Valspar Championship – his first time playing Copperhead as a professional golfer.
As an amateur, McCoy played Copperhead in 2016 in a PGA Tour event on a sponsor’s exemption and made the most of a great opportunity.
He shot the lowest third-round score of the tournament with a 5-under 66. He was paired with the then-No. 1 ranked player in the world, Jordan Spieth, on Sunday, in front of family, friends and the eyes of the golfing world.
It was an amazing experience for the kid from Dunedin who dreamed of teeing it up on Thursday at Copperhead in a PGA Tour event.
“I don’t care if I miss the cut. I just want to play,” he recalled. “I just want to be able to get into the tournament one time and the next thing I know I’m one or two off the lead, paired with the No. 1 player in the world.”
McCoy finished the tournament tied for fourth place – good enough to earn a $298,200 check - which, of course, he couldn’t keep because he was still an amateur.
“I’d say 95 percent of the guys that are out here aren’t in it for (the money). It’s about the love of the game,” he said. "But that’s a big, fat check.”
This year, if McCoy makes the cut, he’ll be able to take home the check. The kid who grew up riding to the course, begging to get into a cart and learning every inch of Copperhead has a shot to finally earn a pay day there.
“I’m going to enjoy it regardless of how I play. I expect to make the cut. I expect to play well. I know this golf course so well that if I’m hitting it well, I’m going to put up a decent number,” said McCoy with a smile.
“I’m so blessed just to be able to play this event again and there is nothing that it going to keep me from enjoying it.”
The first round of the Valspar Championship is set for Thursday.