After 9 years and family tragedy, Villegas is a Tour winner again

Camilo Villegas tapped in for par and looked to the sky.

The 41-year-old Villegas had won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship on Sunday at Port Royal Golf Club for not only his first victory on the PGA Tour in over nine years but also his first win as a father.

And in the moment, Villegas could only think about his family and the little girl who made him one.

“Tough to put in words right now, but wow, what a ride, man,” Villegas said in an emotional interview on the final green. “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.”

He paused for a brief second and looked up again: “My little one up there watching…”

Villegas and his wife Maria’s first-born, Mia, died in July 2020, less than five months after being diagnosed with brain and spine cancer. She was just 22 months old. The couple started a foundation in Mia’s honor, Mia’s Miracles, which “provides small blessings with large impacts, bringing smiles and positivity to children and families facing challenging circumstances.” They also welcomed a son, Mateo, last December.

As Villegas dealt with unthinkable tragedy off the golf course, on it he’s been trying, even now in his 40s, to rediscover the form that allowed him to win four times on the PGA Tour, including most recently at the 2014 Wyndham Championship.

Villegas, who lost his full PGA Tour card in 2017, had been playing this season using his past-champion status while also making 18 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour. He began working with a new instructor, Jose Campra, at the start of the year, and Campra told Villegas he needed at least a year to revive his career. Villegas missed seven of his first 10 starts –and ended up No. 115 in KFT points – but last week closed in 66 in Cabo to tie for second and punch his ticket to Bermuda.

That runner-up showing affirmed that Campra’s timeline was speeding up and what Villegas’ mental coach had been telling him for a while, that Villegas could win again on the PGA Tour.

“I’m not sure I believed him, to be honest,” Villegas said, “but here we are.”

Just weeks ago, Villegas had plans to compete in next week’s second stage of PGA Tour Q-School – it was supposed to be just his second-ever Q-School appearance, first since 2004.

His Cabo performance bumped him into next month’s final stage.

Now, he doesn’t have to worry about that; he’s got a two-year exemption and spots in next year’s Masters and PGA Championship.

Villegas trailed 54-hole leader Alex Noren by a shot to begin Sunday before birdieing four of his first seven holes to pull even with Noren atop the leaderboard. While Noren bogeyed Nos. 9 and 10, Villegas, who carded just one bogey in his final 63 holes, remained flawless, adding two more birdies, at Nos. 15 and 17, and no bogeys to shoot 6-under 65 and beat Noren by two shots at 24 under.

“I never felt so comfortable being in contention like I did the last couple weeks, to be honest,” Villegas said. “It’s kind of weird, it’s kind of strange. Even when I was in contention back in the day, yeah, a few years ago, 10 or more, I didn’t have this calmness. I’ve got to really analyze what happened the last couple weeks, try to replicate more often.”

Added Noren: “My wife is close to his wife, and I know what he’s been through, and it’s terrible what happened to him and his family, so I’m so happy for him. I’ve got kids of my own and I can’t imagine. So, I’m very, very happy for him and the way he played and the way he’s handled his life after. It’s remarkable.”

A week after Erik van Rooyen clipped Villegas and delivered an emotional victory of his own, winning the World Wide Technology Championship with his friend and former college teammate likely in his final weeks of battling cancer, it was Villegas’ turn.

“I know what he’s going through; I saw it with my daughter,” Villegas said. “It was just meant to be. He said it, playing for a different reason other than just a trophy and it was his time. …I sent him a little text, and I said just please give your buddy a big hug from me and enjoy the time with him.

“And here I am. I guess it was my week.”

Villegas has a couple tattoos on his wrists, one on the left that says, Attitude, and another on the right that reads, Positive energy.

Two things in life, Villegas says, that he can control.

The rest is up to a higher power.

And so, Villegas will keep looking up.

“I’ve got my little one up there watching it, smiling,” Villegas said. “She’s where she needs to be after a long fight. To everybody, just I want to say thanks, it’s been a fun week.”

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