Villegas striving for tour card

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Colombian Manny Villegas hopes this week’s NZ Open will provide a passage to gaining a card on the United States PGA’s secondary Nationwide Tour.

Villegas, 25, a player without a tour to date, aims to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious elder brother Camilo, 28, a well-performed professional on the mainstream tour.

Manny has a sponsor’s invite into the NZ Open, but his first venture on the course has already brought success –he was the pro in the winning pro-am morning team which also included the tournament’s major sponsor, Michael Hill.

“My goal is to gain Nationwide status and I’ll take it tournament by tournament, try and perform every week, and hopefully get a card at the end of the year,’’ Villegas said after his pro-am round.

At the moment he’s relying on sponsor’s invites and pre-qualifying.

The younger Villegas said he was very proud of what his elder brother had achieved and that Camilo had been pivotal in securing the first Nationwide Tour event in Colombia with the $US600,000 Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open being staged at the Country Club of Bogota on March 4-7.

As with Camilo, Manny attended the University of Florida where he learned what was needed to bring success.

“It opened my eyes and I realised how dedicated and how much hard work had to go into the game to be successful. College golf was very competitive and ensured I stayed motivated.”

Villegas said the advantage of coming from a country where golf had little standing was that it provided him with greater opportunities to represent Colombia at international junior events.

“Where I come from we are a country of four million people with four golf courses – in New Zealand you have four million people with 400 golf courses.’’

Villegas turned pro 18 months ago and three months later had his first win, the 2008 Colombian Open. He backed that with victory in the Colombian Masters last December.