First-round leaders perfect to represent Humana's eventDavid Toms, who wears a Humana logo on his chest, is tied for the overnight lead in La Quinta.January 19, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- One of the leaders wears the sponsor's logo on his chest. The other is arguably the most physically fit player on the PGA TOUR.
The Hollywood A-listers who frequent this posh resort town about 90 minutes east of Los Angeles couldn't have scripted things any better after the first round of the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
Granted, not everyone aspires to log enough hours in the gym to become as ripped as Camilo Villegas, who opened with a 63 to tie Humana's own David Toms for the lead. But beyond the birdies and bogeys on the golf course, this tournament is all about personal health and wellness, from pedometers to blender bikes to Tuesday's conference hosted by President Bill Clinton.
So what better way to kick things off than with the two men tied for the lead telling the story?
Villegas remembers being one of the shortest hitters on the University of Florida golf team when he came to Gainesville from Medellin, Colombia, in 2000. Equipment only goes so far. Villegas knew what he had to do to add distance off the tee.
"I knew if I wanted to play golf for living I needed to get a little more fit and a little more stronger," Villegas explained. "And four years later I was one of the longest guys on the golf team, which really helped me to take it one step further turning pro, playing a year on the Nationwide Tour, and then the last seven years out here."
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound specimen of toned and tan muscle mass says fitness has become a part of his lifestyle now. When he's not lifting weights and not playing golf, his exercise of choice is cycling -- and the driven Villegas is not afraid to ride with Santiago Ortega, a world champion from Colombia.
"I enjoy every second I'm in the gym," Villegas said. "I love to challenge myself, push myself, obviously there's a lot of different routines and a lot of different stuff we do, love cycling, and again it's part of my lifestyle."
His legacy, as well. Villegas was featured in the July 2006 issue of GQ and among the observations in the magazine was: "He's got a closet full of tight trousers, a set of boxer's biceps and more screaming female fans than Justin Timberlake." ESPN The Magazine came calling, too, and he posed for the 2010 "Body Issue."
Villegas, who turned 30 earlier this month, is making his first appearance in the Humana Challenge. The three-time PGA TOUR winner turned around a frustrating 2011 season with three top-10s in his last four starts, and he came to the Coachello Valley this week recharged after spending a month with his family in South America and ready to see what he could make happen.
"It's an interesting game," Villegas said. "... The offseason, believe it or not, two years ago, actually offseason of 2010, I worked really hard. And I was changing equipment, I was excited, all this stuff, and I wanted to get my swing a little bit better, went to Colombia, practiced almost every day, came out here, played bad.
Interview: Camilo Villegas
Following his opening-round 63, Camilo Villegas talks to Bill Rosinski from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.
"This year, this past year I look back and I said, you know what, that's not my routine, that's not what I do. I always go home for three, four weeks, I take some time off, I spend some time with family, friends, it's important to me, and recharge. So that's exactly what I did this year, not much golf, recharged and time to work again."
Villegas acknowledged that he felt a "little rusty," but at the same time "mentally fresh." Toms, on the other hand, was playing for the third straight week -- and the round of 63 marked just the second time the veteran had broken 70 in seven rounds this year.
Toms played with Phil Mickelson and a Humana executive named Bill Tait, both long-time friends, in front of the day's biggest crowds, including at one point, the 42nd President. He said he felt the pairing was a "comfortable" one and likely helped him get back on track after a disappointing two weeks in Hawaii where he finished next-to-last at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and missed the cut at the Sony Open.
"A lot of conversation and it was just a good day," said Toms, adding that he put the extra days after the early exit from Waialae to good use on the range. "... I felt like I had some keys that started to work in the golf swing and putting and so forth."
Toms may represent Humana but he says he wasn't privy to how the changes to the format of the tournament -- four rounds instead of five and one amateur rather than four to each PGA TOUR pro -- materialized. But he likes what's happened with his sponsor steering the way.
"I wasn't behind the scenes to know exactly all that went down, but I think it's obviously nice for them to step up and we have a new sponsor here," Toms said. "And obviously with President Clinton's involvement bringing some more attention to the event, it's a great place to have a golf tournament, and we still have the pro-am format as well. So I think it's a win/win for everybody."
Particularly if he or Villegas should end up hoisting the Bob Hope Memorial Trophy on Sunday.