Just over three years after burying his 22-month old daughter who’d been taken by cancer, Camilo Villegas was back in the PGA Tour winners’ circle, ending a nine-year drought and few would begrudge him the victory.
“Tough to put in words right now, but wow, what a ride, man,” he said post-round. “You know what, I love this game. This game has given me so many great things, but in the process it kicks your butt. Life has given me so many great things and in the process it kicks my butt, too.
My little one up there, she’s watching. She’s where she needs to be after a long fight.”
Last week, the 41-year-old Colombian thought he might have an eagle putt on the 18th hole to take it to a playoff only to watch Erik van Rooyen can an eagle putt of his own and shut the door, but good things come to those who wait and the extra week’s wait worked wonders as he closed in a six-under 65 at Port Royal Golf Course on Sunday to defeat Sweden’s Alex Noren by two strokes and win the Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
Having dipped to 752 in the world prior to his performance in Mexico last week, Villegas had lost his PGA Tour playing rights and was only in the Mexican field as a sponsor’s exemption, but his T2 meant another start this week and he’s now got his PGA Tour card secured through 2025, a place in The Sentry, the first ‘signature event’ of 2024, and of course, a return to Augusta National in April to look forward to.
Villegas burst onto the global golfing scene with a brace of wins in 2008, the first coming at the BMW Championship and then three weeks later, he won again at the Tour Championship in East Lake. Conspicuous by his good looks, Latin flair, and ‘spiderman’ green-reading technique, the world was his oyster, but though he’d win again at the 2010 Honda Classic and the 2014 Wyndham Championship, the ‘major champion in waiting’ expectations never materialised and injuries combined with a loss of form meant he was planning a return to second stage of PGA Tour Q-School and was toying with the idea of moving into broadcasting, trying out as a commentator for Golf Channel back in August.
Prior to last week, he had planned to compete at second stage of Q-School, a tournament he hadn’t needed to play since 2004. Villegas had struggled with injuries, including shoulder surgeries, in recent years and ranked 223rd in the FedEx Cup standings before his strong performance in Mexico. In August, he did a tryout as a TV commentator on the Golf Channel.
But losing a PGA Tour card, losing your form and losing your livelihood are nothing compared to losing a child and when his daughter Mia was diagnosed with cancer in 2020, everything else was put in context.
“She was always a little monkey around the gym, and I noticed she wasn’t being the little monkey she always was,” he said in June 2020. “I don’t know why, I just kind of got a bad feeling…You don’t need 10 doctors to tell you the bad news.”
In the years following Mia’s death, Villegas and wife Maria have set up Mia’s Miracles, a foundation to help other families dealing with pediatric cancer, and they’ve also welcomed a son, Mateo, who was born in 2021.
Villegas’s tattoos were shown on the broadcast, one on each wrist, and afterwards he explained the meaning of them and his reasoning for having them.
“Yeah, sometimes I forget to look at them more often, to be honest,” he said. “On the left one it says attitude and on my right one it says positive energy. There’s a lot of things you can’t control in life, but I guess these two you can. You’ve got to have good attitude in life, easier said than done at times. And energy, you can bring the energy not only to yourself but the people around you and that’s something we all should strive for.”
Villegas back as a father, back as a winner, back on the PGA Tour and back in a major championship is a feel good story, and one that few would argue is anything less than he deserves.