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For resilient Camilo Villegas, everything and nothing has changed

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For resilient Camilo Villegas, everything and nothing has changed

After turning back clock the last two weeks, tries to maintain hot hand at The RSM Classic

    Written by Cameron Morfit @CMorfitPGATOUR

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Georgia – Camilo Villegas once went to great lengths to get a different read.

    Down on all fours and with his pink pants mere inches from a certain grass stain, his muscles rippling and long hair spilling out his painter’s cap, he came closer than any other modern golfer to reading a putt from the POV of a ball mark.

    This was circa 2008, when Villegas was the guy magazines, clothiers and others went to when they wanted golf to look cooler than it really was. A lot has changed since then, and yet Villegas, now 41 and coming off a popular victory at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship last weekend, is still reading things differently.

    “I'm so fortunate,” he said Wednesday at The RSM Classic, where he’s been accepting congratulations and working his way through 900 text messages. “I mean, I'm so fortunate to have the life I have. This kid coming from Colombia going to the University of Florida, accomplishing the dreams playing on the PGA TOUR. Then yes, there were bumps, but that's life.

    “Yes, I wish my little one was here with us,” he continued, “but she's not and she's truly in a better place after a long battle that she wasn't going to win. So, I accepted that, too.”

    It was not a bump but utter devastation when Villegas and his wife, Maria, lost their daughter, Mia, to pediatric cancer in July of 2020. She wasn’t yet 2. For Villegas, who had dealt with a shoulder injury – he would lose his PGA TOUR card and go back to the Korn Ferry Tour – his entire life, not just his game, was now a rebuilding project.

    Camilo Villegas’ news conference after winning Butterfield Bermuda

    In retrospect, though, he would become the hero, not the victim, of his story, so much so that when an interviewer in Colombia asked how he’d endured such hardship, the question seemed off-base, the phrasing all wrong.

    “It wasn’t resonating, what they were telling me,” Villegas said.

    It started with their foundation, a place to repurpose something awful into something productive. Camilo and Maria started Mia’s Miracles to help parents who found themselves in the same situation they’d endured – doctors and scans, uncertainty and fear. They had a son, Mateo, who was born at 7:56 a.m. nearly two years ago. Mia had been born at 7:56 p.m.

    All the while, Villegas, at his wife’s urging, did not turn his back on the game. It’s what you love, she reminded him. You’ve got to find a way to stick with it. Villegas did. Although he tried his hand at broadcasting, he recommitted to the game, first getting healthy, then starting with a new instructor, Jose Campra, in February.

    'It's been a journey' Camilo Villegas reflects on win at Butterfield Bermuda

    Swing changes would require all of his patience. With limited status, Villegas missed seven cuts in 11 PGA TOUR starts this season. He got more than half his weekends off on the Korn Ferry Tour, too.

    With his world ranking in the 700s, he called World Wide Technology Championship Tournament Director Joe Mazzeo to petition for a sponsor exemption. Mazzeo granted it. No one knew it, but this would be a turning point.

    Languishing at 223rd in the FedExCup Fall when he pegged it for the first round in Los Cabos, Mexico, on Nov. 2, Villegas – a streaky player who had captured the 2008 BMW Championship and TOUR Championship in consecutive weeks – suddenly found something and finished second to Erik van Rooyen at El Cardonal.

    For Villegas, moving up to 147th in the FedExCup Fall was nice, but being exempt into the Final Stage of Q-School (he was scheduled to play Second Stage this week) was even better.

    Then, just as he did in ’08, Villegas followed up one great performance with another, coming from a shot back to defeat Alex Noren and win his fifth PGA TOUR title in Bermuda.

    Just like that, Villegas was up to 75th in the FedExCup Fall. He had his PGA TOUR card back, through 2025. What’s more, he was in position to potentially elbow his way into The Next 10 (Nos. 51-60) to earn a few early Signature Event starts in 2024.

    “You just never know where life goes,” he said from The RSM Classic, where he lost in a playoff in 2017.

    Camilo Villegas’ winning highlights from Butterfield Bermuda

    Maria was always going to be here for a speaking engagement this week, talking about how much they’ve been impacted by the weekly RSM Birdies for Love program. (Patrick Rodgers, among others, has earmarked his Birdies Fore Love winnings to Mia’s Miracles, and last week Villegas was the big Birdies Fore Love winner, bringing in another $50,000.)

    Before this month, though, Villegas was not in The RSM Classic and desperate for a spot. Betraying a nimbleness his 20-something self never needed, he again dialed a tournament director, this time Todd Thompson.

    “I’m calling you because I don’t want to be there,” Villegas said. “I need to be there.”

    Thompson laughed and found him an exemption, but as it turned out, Villegas’ triumph in Bermuda meant he wouldn’t need it. He’s back at The RSM Classic and will be returning to a lot of other cool places on the PGA TOUR for the next two years.

    No longer so spry as to get down on all fours to read greens, Villegas leaves the “Spiderman” stuff to 2-year-old Mateo on Halloween. He’s also gone monochromatic – either all white or all black. But he’s still seeing things differently.

    “I mean, my wife reads me messages from people we help on Mia's Miracles every week,” he said. “I go, man, if Mia was here, we wouldn't be able to do this. You turn it around and my life has been great with the ups, with the downs, I accept it.

    “Obviously, it's better when you're playing good,” he continued, “it's better when you're playing on the PGA TOUR, when you're winning golf tournaments where you don't have to deal with those family situations and personal situations, but hey, be ready because you never know when things turn around, for good, for bad, and we'll keep going.”

    Cameron Morfit is a Staff Writer for the PGA TOUR. He has covered rodeo, arm-wrestling, and snowmobile hill climb in addition to a lot of golf. Follow Cameron Morfit on Twitter.

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