It was historic.
Rookie Jhonattan Vegas is the first Venezuelan to win a PGA Tour event, winning the Bob Hope Classic in only his fifth start. (PGA.com)
26 year-old Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas’s US PGA Tour win was seen as a rebuke to Hugo Chavez’s assault on the sport. Vegas told reporters, “I really hope it means people changing their minds about the sport.”
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Venezuelan golfers hailed compatriot Jhonattan Vegas’s US PGA Tour win as a big advance for their sport in the baseball-obsessed nation and proof socialist leader Hugo Chavez’s disparagement of golf was misplaced.
The 26-year-old Vegas, who learned golf thanks to his father’s job as a caddy, won a first US PGA title in only his fifth start after a playoff for the Bob Hope Classic on Sunday.
“I’d never heard such commotion,” said Carlos Whaite, executive director of Venezuela’s golf federation, who watched Vegas’s triumph on TV with scores of excited kids and other golf fans after a children’s competition in Caracas.
“This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to Venezuelan golf beyond our borders,” Whaite said.
Unlike most of football-mad South America, the all-consuming national sport here is baseball, which was first introduced to the country by U.S. oilmen.
Golf, by contrast, is a niche game which the firebrand Chavez denounces as a “bourgeois” sport played on land that would be better used to build houses for slum-dwellers.
Half a dozen courses have been closed in recent years, and the president has urged golf clubs to give up land to pitch tents for families made homeless by floods late last year.
Julio Torres, who runs a national golf school, said Vegas’s relatively poor roots and dark skin in race-conscious Venezuela showed that golf was not just a sport for the rich.
“We want the people in government who still don’t like golf to realize that it’s not like that,” he told Reuters.
“He (Vegas) is of humble extraction, is coloured, and has made it into the big leagues of golf through hard work,” he said.
What a great win.
Congratulations, Jhonattan Vegas!