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Rafael Campos proud of his resurgent homeland and Puerto Rico Open

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Rafael “Rafa” Campos is smiling broadly while shaking hands and chatting with well-wishers as he hits balls on the practice range here at Coco Beach. He’s here at the 36-hole golf club hard on the ocean near historic San Juan preparing for this week’s Puerto Rico Open, a PGA Tour event.

The sun is shining and palm trees are swaying beneath clear blue skies as Campos gets ready to play in the week’s pro-am, and he seems as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. A native of the island, he was a Web.com event winner in January – and the prospect of playing well at home has him particularly motivated.

“I’ve done really well here in the past, and I truly believe I can win this tournament if I play well,” said Campos. “Winning on the Web.com was huge for me. I’ve been playing nine years as a golf professional and I was starting to wonder if I would break through. Doing so is the best feeling in the world, a special feeling that makes you hungry to win every week.”

Winning the Puerto Rico Open would catapult Campos into the next echelon, that of a PGA Tour event winner, and all that comes with it. But it would also mean a lot to the island.

“It’s an honor to play in a tournament that showcases our island’s beauty and our courses,” said Campos. “Our island is about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide, so people are shocked when I tell them we have twenty-something courses. It’s so important that we get the word out about our great golf courses. You look at them and the perfect shape they’re in and you’d never know we had a devastating storm. While it was extremely difficult for us, we’re so much better now and the golf is perfect.”

Other members of the Puerto Rico Open field echoed Campos’ sentiments.

“Being here and seeing how well the course looks and plays, it’s hard to imagine all this place went through with Hurricane Maria,” said Martin Piller about Coco Beach Resort & Golf Club. “It feels good to be part of the tournament as it returns to the island.”

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is playing in the Puerto Rico Open pro-am. The island native and recent inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame was instrumental in helping raise funds to aid island recovery following the storm. The Puerto Rico Open was postponed last year as the island worked to recuperate, so Rodriquez, Campos, and other high-profile Puerto Ricans teamed with and the PGA Tour to hold a benefit event instead.

“It is so gratifying to have the tournament here again,” said Rodriguez. “We never stopped working and believing that we would come back better than ever.”

What would it mean to win the Puerto Rico Open? Campos mulls the question for a moment.

“It would mean everything,” he said. “It would mean we won, the Puerto Rican people. We are a proud people, and to win here and share it with family and friends, that would be the best thing ever.”

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A University of Maryland graduate, Dan is a lifelong resident of the Mid-Atlantic, now residing in Northern Virginia. Fan of the Terps and all D.C. professional sports teams, Dan fell in love with golf through Lee Trevino's style and skill during his peak years. Dan was once Editor of Golf Inc. Magazine.

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