Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas Excels at an “Elitist” Sport and Never Forgets His Roots

Apr 13, 2012
1:44 pm

Sports Illustrated is one of the best weekly magazines around. In a world of ESPN instant gratification, SI thrives with quality stories and some of the best writing around. This month, that tradition continued when SI did a feature about Venezuelan pro golfer Jhonattan Vegas. It is a must read if you are a sports fan, or a fan of how someone who came from such a humble background has learned to excel and become a national hero. So much so that President Hugo Chávez, once a public critic of the "elitist" sport of golf, now praises Vegas.

Vegas' story is one of the Nuevo Siglo: using determination and grit to succeed in a place that most Latinos would never even consider. We encourage you to read the piece. Here is an excerpt that hit home with us:

Following his against-all-odds victory at the Hope, Jhonattan longed to return home to celebrate, but it took 11 months for the political climate in Venezuela to be deemed suitable. Now, at San Miguel Hotel, Golf & Club, it took Vegas another half hour to make it the final 50 yards as he navigated the endless hugs and kisses and cellphone snapshots of another mob of well-wishers. Finally he reached a large room for a press conference that turned into something closer to a religious revival. Every answer was greeted with rapturous applause. Kids who were participants in the foundation tournament approached the microphone in the middle of the room and asked questions, wide-eyed. Old acquaintances got up and told touching stories, never bothering with a question. Finally Miguel Martínez, 39, came to the microphone. He had been known as Venezuela's best golfer until he was superseded by Vegas. Martínez spoke in a quiet voice for more than 10 minutes, and so heartfelt was his testimonial that Vegas was blinking back tears for much of it.

"I have known Jhonattan since he was a little kid, and I am extremely proud of what he has done," Martínez said. "He comes from humble origins and a hardworking family, like many of us. What he has done is amazing. More significant than the pride we feel for his success is what his victory can do for the future of this sport we all love. His success is symbolic of the possibilities for all of the poor children who are engaged in a daily fight for survival. The doors to a better life can be opened for them through golf, as they were for Jhonattan and me. Venezuelan golf has been through hard times. But we must do what we can to open those doors again. We cannot give up on the children. We lost track of many after the   golf courses were closed. We had created a thriving, supportive community for them, and then it was all gone. We have to once again provide disadvantaged kids with an opportunity to learn this game. Golf builds character and strength. We can help them achieve their dreams, like Jhonattan has." When Vegas spoke, he said,

"I love my country. Everything I do, I do for Venezuela." Later, in a quieter, more introspective moment, he admitted, "There is a lot of pressure. It is hard enough trying to succeed on the PGA Tour and win tournaments. That role"—single-handedly saving golf in his homeland—"is a very big one. But I have to do all I can. Golf has given me everything I have. I owe it to the game and to my people to give back as much as I can."