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Koepka sets the stakes, and the menu, at PGA champions dinner at Churchill Downs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — For one evening, at least, the center of the golf universe was the world’s most famous horse track.

Defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka hosted the traditional champions dinner Tuesday night at Churchill Downs, a quick drive from Valhalla Golf Club, where he begins defense of his title Thursday.

Most of the sport’s still-active champions passed under the track’s celebrated twin spires for the get-together. One notable exception: Two-time champion Rory McIlroy did not attend.

Koepka called it a good time and said his chef helped the staff at the racetrack do the cooking. The menu went heavy on the smoked meats: smoked brisket, smoked beef short ribs, smoked fried chicken, smoked cedar plank salmon.

Koepka said he’s never been to a Kentucky Derby — one planned trip there in 2020 got scrubbed because of COVID-19.

Koepka, who has won the U.S Open twice and the PGA Championship three times, is still an outsider to the more-celebrated champions dinner at the Masters.

“I’m not able to go to the one at Augusta yet, but this one is super cool,” he said.

NO KNEED TO WORRY

Ludvig Aberg says his aching knee won’t keep him out of action this week at Valhalla.

The 24-year-old Swede, who turned pro last summer and already has a win on both the PGA and European tours to go with a second-place finish in his majors debut at last month’s Masters, skipped last week’s PGA Tour stop in Charlotte because of knee soreness.

He said he’s wearing a brace this week but the brace, like the off week, is more of a precaution than anything else.

“I’m consulting with my doctors and I trust them with everything that I have, so it’s not bothering me at all this week,” he said. “I look forward to playing.”

Aberg enters the week ranked sixth. He has five top-10 finishes in 10 PGA Tour events this season. He is ranked third on the tour in driving, something that should help him at long and damp Valhalla.

SCHAUFFELE SUSTAINS

Xander Schauffele arrived at Valhalla playing some of the best golf of his career, with little to show for it in the trophy case.

He led during the final round last week at Wells Fargo before Rory McIlroy zoomed past him over the closing holes. Schauffele has finished in the top 10 eight times in 12 starts in 2024, yet he remains without a victory since the Scottish Open nearly two years ago.

“At the end of the day, when I go to sleep, I remind myself that I’m playing at a really high level,” Schauffele said. “I’ve put myself in position. Seven years ago I won twice quickly, I had high expectations, then I didn’t win for a year or two, then I won two or three times in a year. It’s just kind of how it goes sometimes.”

Schauffele is still searching for his first major title, though he’s finished inside the top 20 in each of his last eight appearances at golf’s marquee events, including an eighth at the Masters last month.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the results in the end, but I’ve definitely had a lot of the adrenaline, the final groups, the close calls and things of that nature,” the 30-year-old said. “I learned to appreciate those times in my game because when you’re in 50th place playing on Sunday, it just doesn’t feel like it’s for much.”

TIGER WATCH

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh reiterated Tuesday what Tiger Woods had said the day before: Talks between them about a potential Ryder Cup captaincy are still just that — talks.

Woods has made it clear that he would only accept the post if he could give his all to it, and he has been busy lately, most notably in trying to help the PGA Tour figure out a deal in its long-running negotiations with the owners of LIV Golf.

The Ryder Cup at Bethpage Black is set for September 2025. Waugh said the PGA is in no rush to name a captain.

“Everybody sort of has a timeline for this, and I realize it’s a news day and you guys want news, but we have picked captains later than this,” he said.

He mentioned Luke Donald being named as Europe’s captain late to replace Henrik Stenson, who was removed after joining LIV “and they had a pretty good performance.”

Europe won last year’s cup in Italy, 16 1/2-11 1/2.

“We think there’s plenty of time, and putting an artificial date on it is not something we need to do,” Waugh said.

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AP National Writer Will Graves contributed to this report.

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

By EDDIE PELLS
AP National Writer

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