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This story will appear in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.

For a while there it looked as if the 117th U.S. Open was going to be decided by cute, elfin golfers who together would make a pretty good boy band. Playing in the final group was Justin Thomas, propelled by the record 63 he shot on Saturday while wearing hot-pink trousers and a coral belt. Also in the mix was Rickie Fowler, who is looking more and more like Leonardo DiCaprio and, unfortunately, developing a similar penchant for going down with the ship. For much of the final round cherubic Brian Harman, all 5' 7" of him, held a piece of the lead. And then big, bad Brooks Koepka came through.

Koepka, 27, has a square jaw right out of the Pleistocene Epoch and favors some of the tightest sleeves on the PGA Tour, the better to display biceps that are about as big around as the waist of Tommy Fleetwood, his waifish long-haired playing partner on Sunday. Koepka likes to tell reporters, "I'm not a golf nerd." No, he is 6 feet and 197 pounds of whoopass. Last week he clubbed into submission the longest course in major championship history, and along the way he didn't beat his more ballyhooed contemporaries so much as crush them like an aluminum can against his forehead. Koepka's macho play—and the effect it had on his would-be competition—was not a surprise to Steve Stricker, who as an assistant captain at the 2016 Ryder Cup was assigned to monitor Koepka in his debut. "He looks like he wants to fight you," says Stricker. "He looks like he wants to punch you in the mouth. That's what I like about him—he's got an edge. For sure it's intimidating to play against. You get a guy who is built like a linebacker and pounds the crap out of the ball, and then looks over like he wants to brawl, yeah, that has an effect."

Koepka's four-stroke triumph at Erin Hills, a vast new canvas in the Wisconsin countryside, was only his second PGA Tour victory, but it shouldn't rate as a surprise, given his manifold physical gifts and the swagger with which he has always carried himself. Koepka is celebrated in golf circles for his brash civil disobedience at the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews; with high winds causing balls to twitch on the greens, Koepka refused to continue playing despite the admonishments of a tweedy rules official, who made it known that he carried the title of Sir. "I don't give a f--- who you are," Koepka responded, according to lore. "I'm not playing until my ball stops oscillating."

Battling to make the Ryder Cup team last summer, he limped through the PGA Championship on a badly sprained right ankle, gutting out a fourth place finish that deeply impressed his soon-to-be teammates. At Hazeltine—where he would go 3–1 to help lead the U.S. to its first victory since 2008—Koepka was paired with Brandt Snedeker in a tense alternate-shot match when he uncorked a cold shank on the 12th. "Worst shank I've ever seen," says Snedeker. "Most people would've been freaking out after that." Still, they were able to halve that hole, and at the next, an exacting 248-yard par-3, Koepka rifled a 4-iron to six feet. "Probably the best shot I've ever seen under pressure," says Snedeker. "It never left the pin. That's when I said, O.K., this kid's got something different."

But as he watched a handful of contemporaries break through at major championships, Koepka says he felt like an underachiever. A late bloomer is more like it. A great-nephew of former Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, who won two World Series and was the 1960 National League MVP, Koepka grew up in Wellington, Fla., dreaming of the major leagues. But when he was a boy his nose and sinus cavity were fractured in a car accident; baseball was deemed too risky, so he switched his focus to golf. Lightly recruited, he wound up at Florida State, where he didn't win a tournament until his senior year. After flunking out of the PGA Tour's Q School in 2012, he lit out for the Challenge tour, the minor leagues of the European tour.

Koepka took four Challenge titles by a total of 23 strokes, leading friend and colleague Bud Cauley to observe, "Brooks has won more tournaments in the last six months then the rest of his life combined." Criss-crossing Europe and parts of Asia to play in podunk events was a growth experience for a kid who enjoyed an admittedly comfortable upbringing. Says Koepka's Irish caddie, Ricky Elliott, "He's slept in his car [in Kazakhstan]. He's slept in a B&B with four of us [in one room] and struggled along the way, and that's helped him appreciate where he is."

In late 2013, Koepka was hitting balls at the Floridian Golf Club when a mutual acquaintance persuaded Claude Harmon to take a look at this raw talent. Along with his celebrated father, Butch, Claude was already coaching Dustin Johnson and used to fending off young pros hungry for guidance. "It's a little like Nick Saban or Mike Krzyzewski looking at a bunch of prospects," Harmon says. "I was already pretty busy with DJ, so to take on someone else they would have to jump out at you. I watched Brooks hit a couple of balls and went, Wow! You just don't see speed like that every day."

After a few more swings, Koepka mumbled, "Man, I hate trying to hit draws."

"So why are you trying to hit draws?" Harmon asked.

"The guy I'm working with wants me to."

"And you don't want to?"


"That's your fault. If you want to hit fades all you have to do is get the club from here to here."

Koepka did as he was instructed, launched a few bombs and said, "Man, it can't be this easy."

"Well, it has to be, because the sport you're playing is complicated enough."

They've been working together ever since, just as Koepka's short-game has greatly benefitted from a long affiliation with Pete Cowen, the Yoda of the Euro tour. Basic mechanical changes and a few simple thoughts unlocked Koepka's action. "The harder he swings," says Harmon, "the straighter the ball goes."

In 2015, the year Koepka won his first PGA Tour event, in Phoenix, Tiger Woods's former caddie Steve Williams told Golf Digest, "Once in a great while a player comes along who hits a golf ball the way it was meant to be hit. Powerful, piercing, the perfect trajectory. Of the young players out there, one I've seen has that special ball flight: Brooks Koepka. Adam [Scott] and I were paired with him at the Open Championship last year, and from his first tee shot on, I thought, This kid is special. Obviously he's searching to find the other parts of the puzzle, but I haven't seen a ball flight like that since Tiger, and before that, Johnny Miller."

Across 2015 and '16 Koepka had three top 10s in the majors, but something was still missing. Enter Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champ. Last year Koepka mentioned to his pal that he was going to rent a house while renovating his home in Jupiter, Fla. According to Johnson's trainer, Joey Diovisalvi, "DJ says to Brooks, ‘Bro, stay with me, I've got plenty of space. I'll teach you how to drive a boat.'" Koepka crashed with Johnson for six months and got a close-up look at his ascent to the top of the World Ranking. After a long courtship, this spring Koepka persuaded Diovisalvi to take him on as a client. "He came in as such a cocky little bastard," says Diovisalvi. "At the time Brooks was 18th in the world and he says to me, 'I only have 17 spots to go to relieve DJ of his position.'" But Koepka backed up the trash talk with a seemingly limitless capacity for work. "He'll die on any hill you put him on," says Diovisalvi.

Many of Koepka's training sessions now happen alongside Johnson, who delights in hazing his protégé. "It's a brotherly relationship," says Diovisalvi. "Brooks emulates everything DJ does. He looks up to him even as he's getting needled by him." Dustin's favorite putdown: "Take your diaper off and start lifting some real weight."

Over the last three months Koepka has packed on 10 pounds of muscle, and he believed his game was peaking as he arrived at Erin Hills, where he had played the U.S. Amateur Championship in 2011. Facing wide fairways and greens softened by rain, Koepka could bomb away with impunity. (For the week he only once hit more than a 7-iron into a par-4.) With rounds of 67-70-68 he was tied for second and a shot back heading into the final round but, typically, had been overshadowed by Fowler's flashy bogey-free 65 on Thursday and Thomas's electric 63, which at nine under set a U.S. Open record in relation to par. These young, telegenic Americans were all seeking their first major championship victory—Fowler had been one stroke off the lead through 54 holes at the Masters in April only to shoot 76 to finish 11th—but for Koepka it was more personal. "He's never had the acclaim of a Justin Thomas or a Rickie Fowler," says Harmon. "It gives Brooks a little chip on his shoulder. It drives him."

Koepka announced his intentions on Sunday with birdies at the first two holes. Fowler and Thomas quickly buckled, undone by a series of loose shots and timid putts; only the feisty Harman was game. The two were tied until Harman bogeyed the 12th hole from the fescue just as Koepka was pouring in an eight-footer to save par at 13. Koepka then unleashed all of his want and will into a burst of three straight birdies that was a testament to his varied talents. Just like that, a tense final round turned into a blowout. On the 18th hole Koepka decided to play it safe off the tee with a 3-wood . . . and nuked his drive 379 yards. His only blemish in a five-under 67 was a three-putt bogey at the 10th. For the week he finished seventh in driving distance, at 322.1 yards a pop, and he tied an Open record for a champion by hitting 86.1% of greens in regulation. (A big man with soft hands, he also finished third in strokes gained-putting.) At 16 under, Koepka tied Rory McIlroy for the lowest score in U.S. Open history. When it was over he said, "This week I honestly don't think I ever got nervous. I just stayed in the moment."

Koepka, who by virtue of his victory moved to 10th in the World Ranking, can seem unaffected to the point of being aloof, but on Sunday night, in a small room in the corner of a large white tent that was serving as a temporary locker room, he finally let down his guard. He was sitting at the elbow of a gray-haired gent who was engraving KOEPKA onto a trophy already adorned with so many glittering names.

"O before E, not E before O," he cracked.

When the champ was finally handed the finished product, he cooed, "Man, this is so cool." Koepka then gathered his people for a toast: Harmon and Elliott; new girlfriend Jena Sims, an actress; and agent Blake Smith. They hoisted champagne flutes and cans of beer, while Koepka held a tall mixed drink.

"It's been a long road," Elliott said.

Golf's most dangerous bruiser flashed a big, boyish smile. "But we made it," Koepka said, and then he took a greedy gulp.

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The Real Club Valderrama will stage the third edition of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, the last European Tour stop on European soil before heading for China, Turkey, South Africa and Dubai. From October 19-22, the event will be sponsored by the Autonomous Government of Andalusia with the support of the Sergio García Foundation.

Sergio is a big fan of Valderrama. “Valderrama is a very special place for me, full of good memories – obviously the best when I finally managed to win in 2011. It is one of my favourite courses, one of the best in the world, and I always enjoy playing there.”

The Masters champion is hosting a European Tour event at Valderrama for the second consecutive year.

“I am delighted to support the Andalucía Valderrama Masters through my Foundation. As the tournament host, I would love to see everyone come and enjoy a great event and a wonderful occasion for all the Spanish players.”

“The course is always in top condition, with fast greens and superb maintenance. At last year’s Open de España we saw a big improvement in playability with the pruning of many cork trees, particularly on holes 8, 13 and 18.”

“Each hole in Valderrama has its own attraction and I like them all, because they force you to keep thinking and stay focused from the first to the last shot. It is a very demanding course that doesn’t give you any breaks. You need to put the ball in the right places and keep the errors to the minimum, but you are bound to make errors, so patience is key at Valderrama. You must respect this course or it will turn against you at any moment. One of the things I like most is that it allows you to use all the clubs in the bag.”

Including his 2011 win, García has an outstanding record at Valderrama: 7th at the 1999 WGC-American Express; 5th at the 2000 WGC-American Express; 7th at the 2002 and 2003 Volvo Masters; runner-up at three consecutive Volvo Masters from 2004 to 2006; 34th at the 2007 Volvo Masters; 4th at the 2008 Volvo Masters; 11th at the inaugural Andalucía Masters in 2010, winner in 2011 and 3rd at the 2016 Open de España.

“Last year I had another chance of winning at the Open de España. In the end I didn't make it, but it was a positive week because I kept trying up to the last putt – I gave it my best shot. I enjoyed being the tournament host and felt proud every time I saw the name of my Foundation on the course. We had a fairly good gallery and many visitors to our stand. I want to thank them all because we raised 65.480 euro for the Spanish Cancer Association of Castellón. The money was used to rent some apartments for the families of cancer patients who can’t afford them, so the family can be together during treatment.”

Sergio García, supported by his family, set up his charitable Foundation in 2002 for the purpose of contributing to the social inclusion of economically deprived children and youth through social assistance benefits and the practice of sport as a free-time activity. The Foundation supports on a regular or occasional basis, a variety of initiatives in favour of persons with disabilities. The Sergio García Foundation and the Deporte y Desafío Foundation joined forces in 2003 with the objective of introducing adaptive golf in Spain.

They developed together a twofold programme aimed, firstly, at making golf accessible to people with disabilities, thus helping them to be socially integrated. The second aim was to promote adaptive golf throughout the whole of Spain by means of specific training courses directed at golf teaching professionals. The Spanish Golf Federation as well as the Autonomic Federations joined the initiative.

Tickets for the Andalucía Valderrama Masters will be available at:

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“I look forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans.”

“Valderrama is one of the best layouts I have ever played”.

“What is happening this season is past my wildest dreams”.

Jon Rahm will make his first professional appearance on Spanish soil at the third edition of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, hosted by the Sergio García Foundation and sponsored by the Autonomous Government of Andalusia, from October 19-22. Rham currently ranks 5th in the OWGR and in the FedEx Cup, and 3rd in the Race to Dubai in his impressive rookie season. He won the Farmers Insurance Open, his maiden PGA Tour title, in January. In July he earned his first European Tour victory by winning the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open by six strokes.

The Spanish rising talent (born in Barrika, Vizcaya 10/11/1994) is relishing his home debut. “I really look forward to playing in front of the Spanish fans. Right after the Irish Open I went to Valderrama to practice for October. I felt a big sense of anticipation as I teed up on the first hole. I wish to encourage everyone to come and support us and watch some great golf. If the public enjoys it, we will enjoy it.

“My first round at Valderrama was five years ago when I played the Sotogrande Cup with the Spanish national team. It was a different experience because my game has changed a lot since then. I remember playing in a gale.

“Valderrama is one of the best layouts I have ever played. It is visually attractive and wonderfully maintained. Golf courses don’t need to measure 10,000 yards to be challenging. I find Valderrama very exciting and a good test. You really have to think your way through and play all kinds of shots. Mistakes can be costly, so it keeps you on your toes.”

Jon was two when Valderrama staged the Ryder Cup; his father Edorta recalls how the 1997 showdown introduced golf to his family: “We are a group of friends from Bilbao who enjoy a lot of sports together, particularly skiing. Two of our gang were invited to the ’97 Ryder Cup. They had no idea of golf, but they returned home full of enthusiasm. Two years later, Eduardo Celles opened his golf academy in Bilbao and we all started taking lessons. My wife Ángela, and our sons Jon and Eriz took up golf in 2003.”

The family became so addicted to golf that they took a week’s vacation every year to go to Valderrama for the Volvo Masters. Jon has vivid childhood memories of those tournaments where the trophies he collected on the course were the autographs of his idols.

“I remember my first visit with my father during the 2007 Volvo Masters. The first player we saw was Thomas Björn on the 7th. Then we went to the first to watch Poulter and Sergio tee off. We followed Poulter who played a great shot on the first. I went ahead of my dad and was lucky enough to see Justin Rose ace the 3rd, but my dad didn’t see it. We followed Poulter along the 4th and we waited for Colin Montgomerie on the 5th. The next thing I remember is the 17th, a great hole. You need a perfect drive to a tight fairway and then you are facing a daunting second – it reminds me slightly of the 15th at Augusta.

“On the 18 green I got my shirt signed by Nick Dougherty, Paul Casey and Miguel Ángel, but I don’t think he remembers. Harrington had won the Open Championship that year and I asked him for his cap but he couldn’t give it to me. I didn’t bring home any balls, hats nor gloves, only my shirt with six signatures on it. We went from there to the putting green and to the driving range to see some more golf.”

Ten years after collecting those autographs, Jon returns to Valderrama as one of the world’s top players. “In October I will be proud to play my first professional event in Spain. I look forward to playing the Andalucía Valderrama Masters in front of my home crowd and will do my best to give a good show.

“The boy that went to Valderrama in 2007 is still there, with the same dreams and the same ambition. I am extremely fortunate that my dreams are coming true, but this year feels more like a Steven Spielberg film – winning at Torrey Pines and again in Ireland the way I did doesn’t even happen in the wildest dreams.”

Edorta Rahm shares the same feeling. “I never imagined that Jon would get so far so fast. You dream that your son will make it, but being realistic, we insisted that he should complete his studies. I only started to believe that the dream could come true in 2015, when he finished 5th at the Phoenix Open playing under an invite as the leading world amateur.

“All our family and friends will go to the Andalucía Valderrama Masters – we are looking forward to a great week.”

A press conference to announce the details of the Andalucía Valderrama Masters, hosted by the Sergio García Foundation, will take place on Monday September 25th at 13:00h at the Real Club Valderrama.

Tickets for the Andalucía Valderrama Masters are available at: TICKETS

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Para más información: María Acacia López-Bachiller

Jefe de Prensa del Circuito Europeo en España, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

European Tour Communications, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The European Tour has just announced its full calendar for next year and the main novelty in regards to Spain is the return of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters. It will be played from 19 to 22 October with the support of the Junta de Andalucía and Sergio García. Neither will be Open of Spain, nor will there be presence of the Spanish Golf Federation, although it is not ruled out the celebration of another tournament in Spain in 2017 that is the Open. So far, there's nothing official about it. Remember that the Andalucía Valderrama Masters was already played in the years 2010 and 2011, with victories of Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia. His return is undoubtedly a great news for golf in Spain.

As for the rest of the calendar, it should be noted that there will be 48 tournaments to be played in 24 different countries. It will start on January 12 with the South African Open and end the Race to Dubai Final from November 16 to 19 in Jumeirah. The most striking is the presence of two tournaments in Portugal and Italy.

At the usual meeting of the Portugal Masters, to be played from September 21 to 24 in Vilamoura, and to the Italian Open, Final Series tournament to be played the week before Valderrama, they join the Open de Portugal, which will take place In Portimao from 11 to 14 May, and The Rocco Forte Open - Verdura, in Sicily, from 18 to 21 May.

In addition, Germany will have three tournaments (BMW International, Porsche and Paul Lawrie Match Play moving from Scotland). Finally, there are still two free dates in the calendar: from 16 to 19 March and from 4 to 7 May. Who knows if in one of those weeks could fit the Open of Spain. We will see. Here is the complete calendar.

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The long, painful wait is over. On what would have been the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros, at the conclusion of his 71st consecutive major, Sergio García is a champion. Amid moving scenes at Augusta National, which emphasised so many frustrations, sudden-death victory over Justin Rose afforded García the status he courted since childhood but had been so cruelly, so routinely denied him in the past. Sergio García, major winner: it is a phrase many thought impossible.

The spirit of Seve played a part in Spain’s first major win of the 21st century. Had he not won, onlookers were left to wonder how precisely García would ever recover. At last this was the 37-year-old’s time; even Rose, in calm reflection, will recognise that. “García, García,” chanted the Augusta patrons as he holed out for a three on play-off hole No1. The man himself kneeled on the hallowed turf, partly in disbelief at finally reaching this Holy Grail.

A tearful García was never going to be allowed to end his drought the easy way. This could only have been his earlier fate; 5ft to win the Masters. As the putt slid by, reviving memories of the wounding moments which had denied the Spaniard so many times, the die was surely cast. Everyone had been in this movie before, hadn’t they? In entering the play-off García had such a wave of Augusta National support but horrendously damaging scar tissue. Garcia was to have the last laugh with a fresh, uplifting storyline.

That García and Rose tied on nine under at the close of regulation play after trading 69s was but a statistic. The 81st Masters provided one of this grand old lady’s most iconic climaxes.

It is such a shame that duel in the sun already has context in golf. On a glorious Georgia afternoon Rose and García engaged in epic battle. It ebbed and flowed, it was similar in so many ways to the Open Championship finale involving Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson last year. It was rendered even more endearing by the fact the two golfers in question are such close friends, an alliance they did not hide when displaying sportsmanship of the highest order.

This very quickly became a two-horse race. García held a three-stroke advantage after the 5th. Rose hauled him back to the position of parity at the turn. Nobody else could gatecrash the party.

The widespread assertion was García would eventually buckle under pressure. He has previous, after all. García in fact stabilised himself from ugly dropped shots at the 10th and 11th to post a birdie at the 14th and conjure up one of the shots of the tournament a hole later. As he holed out for a three García punched the air; he finally believed. Neither he nor Rose could pull clear again from the 16th tee onwards.

Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion, ended up best of the rest at six under after a terrific fourth-round 68. He will probably not take offence at this being lost in the mêlée. Thomas Pieters is worth great credit on this, his Masters debut, after earning a share of fourth with Matt Kuchar on minus five. The star of Pieters continues to rise, which is a wonderful boost for European golf. This young Belgian has it all.

The biggest shock of day four was Jordan Spieth’s failure to place meaningful pressure on Rose or García. The Texan, who had finished no worse than second here, could fare no better than a bogey at the opening hole in what proved an ominous sign of things to come.

Spieth, who began Sunday two from the lead, reached the turn in 38 before being afforded a wounding glance back to 2016. On the 12th, Spieth’s now recurring nemesis, he played his tee shot into Rae’s Creek. Three birdies in the closing four holes mattered little to this fierce competitor; 75 and tie for 11th was his fate.

Kuchar had barely been mentioned during Masters week; a situation he remedied on Sunday with a hole in one at the 16th. It was the only ace of this tournament. Even more appealing was Kuchar’s immediate reaction as he signed the ball in question and handed it to a young member of the gallery. Kuchar had further cause for celebration, his closing 67 affording him that share of fourth with Pieters.

Rory McIlroy, who partnered Kuchar over the final 18 holes, must wait at least another year to complete a clean sweep of majors. The Northern Irishman signed off with a 69 to tie seventh.

“It wasn’t quite good enough,” said McIlroy. “I’m getting more comfortable here. I feel like every time I tee it up here I have a real good chance to win. Top 10s right now isn’t good enough but it’s going in the right direction.”

McIlroy’s thoughts will immediately turn towards his upcoming wedding; when he returns to the competitive fold at the Players Championship next month, he will be a married man. “It’s a great time in my life,” he added. “It would have been nice to walk down the aisle in the Green Jacket. I’ll come back refreshed and start a new chapter in my life.”

McIlroy was among those to publicly back Garcia as the play-off scene was set. The man from Castellon now enters exciting and new territory of his own. This is long overdue.

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