PGA TOUR GOLF
Rookie Camilo Villegas is 25th on the PGA Tour money list.
Villegas, Wie in JDC spotlight
The Colombian rookie and the Honolulu teen practice together for this week's PGA Tour event
SILVIS, Ill. » The Hype Police have yet to descend upon Camilo Villegas. If the charismatic Colombian doesn't win soon, though, you can bet the warrant will be issued.
And his practice partner for the John Deere Classic yesterday, Michelle Wie, knows all about that.
Villegas is a PGA Tour rookie who is No. 25 on the money list. But the 24-year-old gallery-filler is in danger of becoming famous for being famous. Making the cut for People's list of hottest bachelors and a feature in "GQ" highlighting his form-fitting attire could work against him eventually.
"It's been a good year. I've had a lot of fun," Villegas said yesterday, three days before the start of the JDC. "The reaction of the people and the media has been very positive."
He's finished second twice, at the FBR Open and the Ford Championship at Doral, and tied for third at the TPC.
That's great for a rookie, but for some it won't be good enough for long (and it will also be pointed out that he's missed
the cut in seven of 19 tournaments). It is inevitable that issue will be made of the former Nationwide tour star lacking wins if he doesn't end a Sunday atop a big-boy leaderboard soon.
Villegas hopes to accomplish that this week here at TPC at Deere Run -- and capture the British Open spot that goes with a victory along the banks of the Mississippi River.
Yesterday he played nine holes with Wie, who, at 16, already deals with the zero-wins conundrum.
Like Villegas, she's come close multiple times, finishing in the top five in all but one of the last six LPGA majors, third or better in four.
Making the cut here would be considered a win for Wie, who missed it by two strokes last year. No female has advanced to the weekend in a Tour event in 61 years.
Villegas was right there the last time she tried, at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. He and fellow Florida alum Chris Couch were her playing partners when Wie missed the cut by four strokes despite a second-round 68. Villegas torched Waialae that day with that Friday's best round, a 6-under 64.
Wie and Villegas seemed to feed off of each other's great shots that windy afternoon.
"Camilo was playing awesome," Wie said after the round. "And one thing I learned from him is that when you look at him, it doesn't look like he's playing 6-under, he looks at ease and it seems like the game was really easy. And he wasn't hitting every single fairway. He was like in the trees and the bunkers a lot."
Fans in Hawaii learned that day what soon became known worldwide: The big stage doesn't bother Villegas a bit.
"I had fun playing with Michelle (in Hawaii). She's a good girl, a good player," said Villegas, who saw Wie around the clubhouse at Deere Run and asked her to join him for practice. "The galleries were huge and I like playing in front of a lot of people. They cheer for you, they motivate you. I learned a lot that week."
It's unclear who should be giving advice to whom, since Villegas is eight years older, but Wie has been dealing with worldwide-celebrity status a little longer. It is apparent they have a lot in common -- as they do with everyone else who plays golf at its highest level and understands that winning, or even making the cut, doesn't come easy.
"Out here we're all trying to get better. I'm just trying to learn and have fun, playing it one shot at a time," Villegas said, sounding a lot like a certain 6-foot-1 Punahou School student. "That's what I told Michelle: Make sure you have fun."
The third player in their practice group yesterday also believes in Wie.
John Panek is a local pro from Davenport Country Club, right across the river. He finally scrapped his way into the JDC via a sectional qualifier this year after several tries. This is his first Tour event.
Does he think Wie takes away opportunities from players like himself and borderline Tour pros?
"I don't feel that way at all," Panek said. "Sponsor's exemptions are for players they think will win, or in Michelle's case, make the cut and sell more tickets. And when more tickets are sold, we all win because more money is raised for charities. Charity wins on this deal."
Panek, the old man in the threesome at 29, said he ended up playing with Villegas and Wie by accident.
"I just walked up to the tee and they were there," he said. "It was great playing with them. It was fun to see the personalities come out of them. Michelle was having fun. That's good to see, especially as young as she is."
Panek doesn't perceive a double standard in Villegas being able to elude the over-hype label so far, but also believes Wie should stay the course.
"She comes under criticism because she plays in men's events," Panek said. "Camilo is flamboyant, a lot of personality. Michelle shouldn't come under any criticism. She's an absolute talent. There's nothing she needs to hang her head about.
"I have a feeling she will win soon and, when she starts winning, it won't stop."
As Villegas said:
"Just keep playing well and have fun. If the win comes, great. There's no big hurry. Every week you tee it up, you try your best to win a golf tournament."
"The reality is you have to be patient."