“Oh yeah, the Spiderman guy.”
That’s how most casual golf observers respond to the name of Camilo Villegas.
The Colombian’s distinctive method for reading greens drew comparisons with the famed Marvel web-slinger, whilst his impressive play and good looks saw him pigeon-holed by many as the new poster boy for golf – a man primed to perhaps take up the baton from Tiger Woods.
That was a decade ago.
At the 2008 Open, weeks after finishing in a tie for ninth at the US Open, Villegas reeled off five consecutive birdies to close out a 65 at Royal Birkdale – the lowest score for any Open second round at the Southport club.
He subsequently fell away, finishing in a tie for 39th, before coming fourth at the US PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.
He bagged his first PGA Tour win the following month at the BMW Championship before adding the Tour Championship weeks later, downing Sergio Garcia at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off.
He finished second in the FedEx Cup that year, banking a $3m bonus for his efforts. He also climbed to a new high of seventh on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Many assumed he’d overtake the six players above him before long; few assumed that was as good as it would ever get for him.
Yet that’s how it has turned out.
Today, Villegas, now 37, is 1,614th on the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s the 44th highest ranked golfer from South America and only the eighth best Colombian, behind the likes of Juan Sebastián Muñoz, Marcelo Rozo and Camilo Aguado.
He has played in only of eight of the 43 majors contested since his fourth place finish in the 2008 US PGA and whilst he chalked up further wins at the 2010 Honda Classic and 2014 Wyndham Championship, Camilo’s career has stuttered and staggered rather than purred the way it was expected to.
For example, since the most recent of those wins, he has played 96 PGA Tour events, with only two top tens to show for his efforts. In the same period, he has missed 39 cuts. That’s 40.6% of the events he has played in.
Sure, he has banked plenty of money. At the time of writing, he has just over $19.5m in career earnings, the biggest PGA Tour haul of any golfer from South America. But in the wider context of the game, he has become an afterthought, a distant, fading memory.
So, what has happened?
In a 2016 interview with Golf Magazine, Villegas explained how he fell into a deep slump afyer winning the Honda Classic in 2010. “Something gets off and it just starts snowballing,” he said. “You lose confidence. You're not having as much fun. You're not practicing. I never stopped practicing, but I probably wasn't practicing as efficiently as I should have been, and you start seeing it in the results.”
It was only after he rediscovered his love of the game that he was able to return to winning ways at the 2014 Wyndham.
Still, that doesn’t explain what has happened to him since then, particularly this season where he has tumbled down the world rankings since the start of the calendar year.
According to a report in Colombian newspaper El Colombiano in 2018, he has been trying to regain full fitness after injuring his right shoulder. He hasn’t featured on the PGA Tour since missing the cut at the Houston Open in April.
He has kept his social media followers updated on his rehabilitation.
In the meantime, he has been able to use his enforced absence from golf to find success in another sport altogether.
An extremely keen cyclist – he once described himself as having “obsessive cycling disorder” – Villegas won an amateur cycling competition that took place in his native Colombia on the gamed ‘Gran Fondo’ route in June 2018.
He came out on top in the ‘31 to 40’ age group in the ‘Punto a Punto’ 90-kilometre race, with a time of 2 hours, 46 minutes and 45 seconds.
He shared news of his win on Instagram.
Villegas has the words “Attitude” and “Positive Energy” tattooed on his right and left wrists respectively. With that mental strength, combined with his extraordinary dedication to physical fitness and his raw, natural talent for golf, it would surprise nobody to see the Colombian revisit the heights he has previous scaled.
Here’s hoping he gets there.
After all, the world needs Spiderman.