UF MEN'S GOLF

No. 1 Gators tee off spring schedule today


Camilo Villegas and the No. 1-ranked Gators men's golf team open the spring schedule by hosting the Gator Invitational.

DOUG FINGER/Sun file photo
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2004 at 1:05 a.m.

Camilo Villegas laid in a Colombian hospital, wondering when the fierce pain in his abdomen would subside.

Facts

Golfing Gators

  • WHAT: Gator Invitational

  • WHO: 15 teams, including No. 1 Florida, Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Kentucky and Tennessee, among others.

  • WHERE: UF Golf Course

  • WHEN: 8 a.m. today, Sunday

  • The Gators All-American senior golfer wasn't supposed to be in Colombia, in excruciating pain. He was supposed to be on a plane, headed back to Gainesville after spending the Thanksgiving break with his family in his native country.

    But here he was, doubled over in a hospital bed as doctors scrambled to find the cause of his pain. They performed blood tests and gave him pain medication. Then more blood tests.

    After three hours, the pain was unbearable.

    "Then," Villegas recalls, "the doctor said, 'OK, let's go into surgery.' "

    Villegas underwent an appendectomy, an unexpected surgery that kept him at home in South America when he was supposed to be in Gainesville playing golf and taking finals.

    "I went a month without doing much - being still, not working out, not much golf," Villegas said this week. "But now it's back to work."

    Villegas and the No. 1-ranked Gators men's golf team open the spring schedule by hosting the Gator Invitational today and Sunday at the University Golf Course. Villegas is fully recovered physically from his surgery. But coach Buddy Alexander is curious to see how Villegas' five-week layoff from the game will affect his play.

    "I'm not real sure where he is," Alexander said. "Physically, he's fine. But is he 100 percent golf-wise? We'll have to wait to see. I think the Gator (Invitational) will tell us about that."

    Villegas insists he is fine physically. Despite only gaining back six of the 12 pounds he lost, Villegas said the layoff won't affect his play. The rust is gone, the strokes are starting to feel crisp.

    Villegas is only taking 10 hours this semester and has no class on Monday and Wednesday. He has been spending extra time on the course since returning to regain his form. He says he is close to finding his touch.

    "Whenever you take a break, your short game is not where you want it to be," he said. "But I'm working hard to get back to that competitive point. I feel like I'm getting there. I'm looking forward to this week's tournament."

    Villegas was set to return to Gainesville to finish course work and finals for the fall semester before his appendectomy. Instead, he was forced to stay in Colombia through Christmas. But that wasn't such a bad scenario.

    "At least I was home and I had other things to do - spend time with my family, friends," Villegas said.

    Meanwhile, back in Gainesville, Alexander wasn't aware what was happening until it was over.

    "I was real concerned for him," Alexander said. "By the time I knew he had had the surgery, he was fine. There was not a whole lot of anxiety at my end."

    But here's where the anxiety does kick in for Alexander. Villegas' career at Florida is winding down after comprising a huge piece of the program over the past three and a half years.

    Villegas had 18 top-10 finishes in 40 tournaments during his first three seasons and advanced to the second round of the U.S. Amateur last year, where he fell to eventual runner-up Casey Wittenberg.

    "We've been lucky to have him," Alexander said. "He's scary good when he's good, and I'm hoping for all of our sakes he has a real good semester. He's one of those rare guys that can put you on his shoulders and carry you. You really pull for those guys. He's a special kid for me, and I'd like to see him finish up strong. That would help his career."

    Villegas has a future in professional golf after Florida. Even after the little scare in a Colombian hospital, Villegas is set to rebound, finish his Gator career and make a little money on a pro tour.

    "If I could buy stock in Camilo Villegas," Alexander said, "I would buy some."

    Villegas has a decent perspective on it all.

    "I can't believe I only have three months left. That's life," he said. "You have stages, and you go through them. I'm looking forward to starting real life and making some money. But I'm going to miss it here."

    You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com.

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