With a name that makes him sound like a magician or a stand-up comic, Jhonattan Vegas made sure he will never be forgotten on the PGA Tour after winning the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, California on Sunday.
The first and only PGA Tour player from Venezuela, long-hitting Vegas clinched his maiden title on the U.S. circuit in only his fifth start in a gripping three-way playoff with Americans Gary Woodland and Bill Haas.
He became the first rookie to win the event in 52 years, after making a miraculous par at the second extra hole, and he fervently hopes his breakthrough will attract more players to the game in his homeland.
"I hope this means a lot (in Venezuela)," Vegas told reporters after triumphing at the five-round pro-am celebrity event in fading light. "I really hope it means change, people changing (their view) about the sport.
"It means everything for me right now. Just to think about winning on the PGA Tour, that's something, and to make it happen is something else. It's a crazy feeling."
Vegas, who parred the second extra hole after hitting his tee shot into water and then sinking a 12-foot putt, could hardly speak a word of English when he first moved to the U.S. in 2002 to play golf at the University of Texas.
"Life for me hasn't been always the best," the beefy 26-year-old from Maturin said. "I've had to fight to get where I am.
"Just coming from Venezuela all the way here, not knowing the language, having to deal with going to school, being at the school, not knowing anyone, having to fight to graduate, graduate, and then get here.
"So it's always been a fight. If I set a goal in front of me, I'm just going to die just to get there. I fight hard just to accomplish what I set out in my mind."
Vegas, who cruised to a six-stroke victory over Andres Romero at last year's Argentina Open, said a putting session with his father Carlos after Saturday's fourth round had helped pave the way for his victory.
"He just told me to relax, grip the putter a little softer and just let it happen," said Vegas, who made clutch putt after clutch putt on the back nine to keep saving par. "I think that was huge today.
"My putting was phenomenal. That was the key for the whole week and that's the reason why I won."
The ever-smiling Vegas, who learned golf playing with a broomstick and a rock, was elated to learn he had earned an invitation to this year's Masters with his Hope Classic win.
"Hey, I'm really excited," he said. "I know it's a dream that my dad and my American friend have had, to go to the Masters, just to walk around.
"It's like: 'Before I die, just please get me to the Masters'. So I just got to thank God one more time for making that happen," he added with a laugh.
In addition to earning a winner's cheque for $900,000 and a spot at Augusta National, Vegas also secured a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour plus automatic invitations to the Players Championship and the U.S. PGA Championship.
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