PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Unusually for a globe-trotting Colombian golfer, Camilo Villegas has never been to Brazil, giving him an even greater incentive to be there in August and represent his country at the Olympic Games.
Villegas is a four-times winner on the U.S. PGA Tour where his success has given the sport a huge boost in his homeland and he is already dreaming of sharing the Rio de Janeiro spotlight with the world’s greatest athletes, swimmers and gymnasts.
“It’s going to be awesome, to have golf back in the Olympics and it’s great for it to start in Rio,” Villegas told Reuters during this week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.
“It would be a huge honor for me to represent my country there. I’ve been kind of dreaming of being at the Olympic opening ceremony, that would be pretty cool.”
With golf set to return to the Olympics after an absence of more than a century, Villegas is already planning to soak up as much of the whole experience as he can.
“The very first thing that I thought was that if I happen to compete at the Olympics, I want to stay in the Olympic village, I want to experience all of that,” said the 34-year-old from Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia.
“You hear so many stories of being around so many athletes, so many different sports. It’s going to be pretty unique. If I am there in Rio, I will be in the Olympic village. I want to experience the whole gig, the opening ceremony, everything.”
Villegas, whose best season on the PGA Tour came in 2008 when he won the last two events to finish second in the FedExCup standings, is also licking his lips at the prospect of a first ever trip to Brazil.
“Believe it or not, Brazil is the one country in South America I haven’t been to,” Villegas grinned.
“I’ve played tons of South American tournaments and South American championships around the whole continent and Brazil is just one country that I never went to. I’d love to go.”
Asked how he would compare an Olympic medal to a victory in any of golf’s four major championships, Villegas replied: “You know what, I think we are going to have to wait and see how people react to it (golf being back in the Summer Games).
“The field in Rio is not going to be like a major field, just because there is no way to have a system to make it like that. But an Olympic gold medal sounds very good. I would have no problem with it,” he laughed.
Sixty players will compete over 72 holes of strokeplay in both the men’s and women’s events in Rio. Golfers in the top 15 of the world rankings will automatically be eligible, although no more than four players from any one country can take part.
Officials will also make space for at least one male and one female player from Brazil, and are committed to having at least one golfer from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
The biggest problem for Villegas right now is how he can rebound from a poor run of form on the PGA Tour where he has missed the cut in his last four events.
“I have played terrible the last four weeks but it’s only the beginning of the season,” he said before Thursday’s opening round at Riviera Country Club. “Hopefully I’ll gain a bit of confidence and get it going.
“This is the last West Coast event and then we go back to Florida, an area that I like and where I have played well in the past. I am looking forward to it.”
Editing by Frank Pingue