Stalking the Tiger

Camilo Villegas's Early Success on the 2006 PGA Tour is Raising the Inevitable Question—Can He Challenge the World's No. 1 Golfer?

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"Controlling his emotions is something that Camilo has had to work at," says Alexander. "He's never been a hothead or a club thrower, but he can get upset enough at himself that it could be detrimental. He's a perfectionist, which can be good and it can be bad. He could beat himself up pretty good. My parting words to him were not to get down on himself."
As with so many pros, putting gets Villegas down. Last year, he literally started getting down in an effort to improve that aspect of his game. At the Ford Championship this year, the gallery and the television viewers were introduced to Villegas's acrobatic method of reading putts, balancing himself on one leg, then getting down so low to the putting surface that it looks as if he's lining up a billiard shot. If Fred Couples tried to do that, it would take a crane to hoist him back up. "It was just another way of giving myself a better chance to make putts, to see the line more perfectly," Villegas says about the praying mantis technique.
But perfection has its price. Villegas has always been a perfectionist. His yardage books, drawn to scale, are works of art. He numbers his athletic socks to match up the same pairs every time he washes them. He is fastidious with all of his clothing and keeps a very clean apartment (he has moved into a new home in Gainesville, Florida, which he shares with brother Manuel, a redshirted junior at Florida). "Last year I had a bad year with putting," says Villegas. "I worked a lot on my mechanics. I worked at the Titleist facility in California. I got a lot better, but I was not making putts, and I was getting frustrated. I tried to be more perfect, more perfect, more perfect, and that was going the wrong way. This year, I finish second at FBR and I feel bad over every putt."
So he called Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist who is also a volunteer assistant coach with the Florida golf team. "My mind was not working the right way. I was too concerned about reading the putt perfect, aiming the putt perfect and making a perfect mechanical stroke. He said, Think about shooting a basketball. You just look at the rim and shoot. He said, You are a great athlete, you've been doing this your whole life, don't make it harder on yourself. Look at the cup and hit it. He called it 'Caveman Golf,' going back to when you were a little kid and just looked at the hole and hit it."
The approach worked. After he finished in a tie for second at Doral, Villegas tied for third at the Players Championship against the best field in the game. He had not been guaranteed a spot in the Players field at the start of the week, then fellow Gator Chris DiMarco pulled out after injuring himself skiing. Had Villegas made one more putt and finished alone in third, he would have put himself into the Masters by being in the top 10 on the money list at that time.
"Everybody kept asking me, Are you going to get into [The Players], are you going to get into the Masters, are you going to get into the U.S. Open?" says Villegas. "I don't care. I do care, but I don't want to know it. I do want to play in the U.S. Open and I do want to play in the Masters. But I can't control numbers out there, I can't control what other guys are doing. I can only control myself."
That there are some things he can't control is all right. The spontaneous eruptions of the huge galleries that followed him at Doral, the women, young and old, who press against the ropes and call his name, the men in hotel lobbies who ask how he's going to do this week. They are all attracted to the aura he has generated through his game, through his persona. This is all good, he knows, as long as he keeps one thought in mind.
"It's all about playing good golf," says Villegas, the "it" man of the moment.
Jeff Williams is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.
Photos by Pam Francis
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