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PGA Tour pro Jhonattan Vegas has lived in Texas for years, playing his college golf at the University of Texas under legendary coach John Fields.
But the 37-year-old’s Venezuelan roots run deep. Vegas was born and raised in the inland city of Maturín. He learned the game on a makeshift nine-hole course built for employees of the oil company for whom his father worked. He won the country’s Junior and Amateur titles and showed enough promise to compete in the World Junior Golf Championships in San Diego, tying for sixth at Torrey Pines.
Vegas also became the first player from his country to compete in the Presidents Cup, and in 2021 he was the country’s golf representative in the 2020 Summer Olympics, where he finished 16th.
So when he sees something that reminds him of home, as he did during the recent Kentucky Derby, Vegas is quick to take notice.
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When Vegas was coming off the course at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm as part of the Wells Fargo Championship, he watched the opening to the Derby and noticed that jockey Sonny Leon was riding Lucky Strike. Leon is a native of Aragua, Venezuela, and Vegas’ first inclination was to wager on his countryman.
“It was funny,” Vegas said on Thursday after his round at The Memorial. “We were in D.C. And I finished my Saturday round and I’m sitting around waiting for the Kentucky Derby. I see it’s a Venezuelan jockey. There’s usually one or two. There’s a Venezuela jockey — let’s bet $500 on it, right? It’s Venezuelan.
“I thought my friend would have a way to bet online, but he didn’t. Just purely … we didn’t know the odds were that big when the guy won. It was a funny story. Incredible.”
While the story may seem funny now, Lucky Strike went off at 80-1, making it one of the most improbable winners in the history of the storied event.
That means Vegas would have pocketed $40,000 had he found a way to place the bet.
“That would have been good,” Vegas said with a laugh on Thursday.
All was not lost that week, however. Through some chilly, windy weather Vegas stayed strong during the final two rounds and finished the event at 1 under, which was good enough to tie for 15th place.
His paycheck for the four-day event was $141,750.