Andrew Johnston will make his return to the scene of his maiden European Tour victory next week when the fan favourite known as ‘Beef’ joins Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and a host of stars at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters hosted by the Sergio Garcia Foundation.
Johnston made his breakthrough last year at the famous Real Club Valderrama when he finished one stroke clear of five-time European Tour winner Joost Luiten of the Netherlands, on a one over par total, to take the Open de España title, while home hero Garcia finished in third place on three over.
The Englishman’s winning interview became a viral video around the world as he discussed his victory party plans, and he has since become one of the most popular figures in the game thanks to his friendly demeanour and sense of humour.
Johnston divided his 2017 season between the European Tour and the US PGA Tour and has struggled with a shoulder injury lately, making his return to action at last week’s Italian Open.
While his return to Valderrama will not quite count as a title defence, as the 1997 Ryder Cup venue is hosting a different tournament this time around, the 28 year old is looking forward to going back.
“I can’t wait to go back to Valderrama,” said Johnston. “My win there last year was such a huge moment in my career and to do it on one of the most famous courses in Europe just made it even more special.
“It is such a tough course but players still love playing it. It is not all about birdies like most other courses and you really have to think your way around. It has such an incredible history and I think it is great that the European Tour is going back there.
“I have been struggling with an injury lately but hopefully a return to the course where I claimed my first European Tour victory can give me a boost and I can challenge for another title at this great venue.”
Johnston is not the only ‘de facto defending champion’ this week as the tournament host and current Masters Champion Garcia heads the field having won this tournament the last time it was played back in 2011.
He plays on home soil for the first time since his famous triumph at Augusta National in April, when he overcame Englishman Justin Rose in a play-off.
Rahm, meanwhile, will make his first appearance in Spain since turning professional after a meteoric rise to the top of the game. The 22 year old joined the paid ranks in 2016 and claimed his maiden professional title on the US PGA Tour in January.
He then emulated his hero Seve Ballesteros in July when he stormed to a dominant victory and his first European Tour win at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation.
Three-time Major winner Padraig Harrington is also in the field, playing on Spanish soil for the first time in nine years.