ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Camilo Villegas admits it was growing old to ask for sponsor exemptions into PGA Tournament fields but it wasn’t hard to phone World Wide Technology Championship tournament director Joe Mazzeo and tell him, “Joe, seriously, no B.S., I’m close.”
Heading into the tournament, Villegas was ranked No. 223 in the FedEx Cup standings, had missed the cut in seven of 10 starts and hadn’t recorded a top-10 finish since the 2021 Honda Classic. But the 41-year-old Colombian’s self-belief remained intact.
Mazzeo gave him a spot in the field and Villegas finished T-2, earning him a place in the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, where he won for the fifth time in his career and for the first time in nine years.
What a difference a few weeks make. Villegas had made a similar call to RSM Classic tournament director Todd Thompson asking for a spot in this week’s event.
“I was supposed to tee it up in second stage of Q-School, so I wasn’t going to be able to be here, but my wife was going to be here Monday night. She was going to do a little event. She was going to speak about our foundation and she was going to tell the story of how RSM Birdies Fore Love has impacted and benefited our foundation and the people that we help,” Villegas recounted. “Things changed in Mexico after I moved up to 147 in the FedExCup points list, I didn’t have to go to second stage of Q-School.”
Of the phone call to Thompson, Villegas said, “No bullshit, I’m calling you because I don’t want to be there, I need to be there. So I don’t know how your sponsor exemptions are looking, but I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I need to be there.”
Villegas went from thinking he was going to play second stage of Q-School to begging for a sponsor invite to being in the field as a Tour winner of the past two years.
“That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Indeed, it is. He said he received more than 900 messages on his phone and he plans to answer them all at some point.
The last two weeks for Villegas have been a microcosm of his journey from the golfer nicknamed Spider-Man that won some big events quickly to the player who dealt with injuries and had to return to the Korn Ferry Tour, and most of all, suffered the loss of his 22-month-old daughter, Mia, who had tumors in her brain.
“Life is a journey and it goes up and down,” he said. “Sort of kind of go back to that Colombian kid that came here with a dream, played college golf at the University of Florida, played the Korn Ferry in 2005 and then everything gets started on Tour so great, playing Augusta my second year on Tour, winning a couple FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2008. Yeah, you would think that that kid was on top of the world. And I was.
“I was feeling pretty good from a performance point of view,” he continued. “But I look at where I am right now and everything that has happened, I truly believe I’m a better person. Maybe the results haven’t been there, but this journey has been pretty interesting. To lose my card, to go through an injury, to lose my daughter, to create Mia’s Miracles, to go back to the Korn Ferry, to keep grinding, to have doubts, to have fears, to have tears, have smiles, all of the above. You just never know where life goes.”
Life is full of twists and turns for all of us and professional golfers are no different. For Villegas, golf is not just a job but what he loves to do.
“I never stopped waking up early, 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, to do what I like to do because in all honesty, the really cool thing about the last two weeks is not so much the results of the last two weeks, but the process and what’s been behind those results,” he said.
Villegas has taken the time to reflect on his journey and a turning point for him was accepting that it did no good for him to live in the past.
“When I finally accepted that, that Camilo Villegas was not the 27-something-year-old that won two FedEx Cup Playoffs in 2008 but he’s the Camilo Villegas of 38, 40, 41 years old and he’s dealing with the information and the experiences he has, that’s when I decided not to look back so much but just to stay in the present and see what I could work with. It’s been very helpful,” he said. “Of course we’re different, just look at the picture from 2008, long hair, 20-something-year-old wearing pink pants. Now my outfits are completely different. I’m a dad. So many bumps, but so many great things.
“Yes, I wish my little one was here with us, 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. And we keep going. We turned that tragedy into something very positive. I mean, my wife reads me messages from people we help on Mia’s Miracles every week. 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.”
Every week there’s just one player who goes home as the winner. It was Villegas’s turn in Bermuda and it was the feel-good story of the year.
“All my peers just come and gave me a hug, telling me how they were watching, how they were pulling for me,” Villegas said. “We’ll do it all over again starting tomorrow.”
The journey continues and Villegas is ready for whatever comes next.