Jhonattan Vegas has victories on the PGA TOUR and the Web.com Tour since he turned professional in 2009, his most recent PGA TOUR title coming last week at the RBC Canadian Open outside Toronto that gave him his second TOUR title to go with his 2011 Bob Hope Classic win. Vegas, the first TOUR winner from Venezuela, was a four-year letterman at the University of Texas from 2004-07, won the Venezuela National Amateur in 2006 and reached the semifinals of the 2007 U.S. Amateur Championship before losing to eventual champion Colt Knost. Vegas won the 2010 Argentina Open and represented Venezuela in the 2009 World Cup. He recently discussed his thoughts about representing his home country at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
What are your thoughts on making the Olympic team?
Just being part of the Olympic Games is an honor, to represent your country and be a part of it. We don’t get a chance to do this very often and to wear your country’s colors and play for them is an honor. When I was a kid and the Olympics came on TV, I would watch all the sports. Now to be there and walk in with my country, it’s going to amazing.
Had you been keeping track of your progress throughout the qualification process?
I didn’t keep an eye all the time, but I knew where I was and I knew where I had to stay to be part of the Games. It was definitely a priority to me to make it and be part of the games.
How important are the Olympic Games to the people in Venezuela?
It’s huge. I’d say for 99 percent of the athletes from Venezuela, it’s the biggest event in the world. Everyone in the country watches and supports their athletes. They try to make we have as many athletes as possible to be part of the Olympics. So as a golfer it’s more special.
You’ve represented your country in other international competitions. What is going to be unique about the Olympics?
This is different. Even though I’m on the PGA TOUR and I’m representing my country, I am primarily playing for myself and trying to keep my status. At the Olympic Games, the medal count doesn’t go to one person, it goes to your country. You’re playing for your country, not for yourself. To be part of a team, to be part of the Venezuelan Olympic team, it’s a unique situation to have.
For many Olympic participants, the Opening Ceremonies are one of the highlights. Are you planning to march in with the team?
For sure I’ll be at the Opening Ceremonies. I’ve watched a lot of them, and that will be something really cool to do, to be there and the whole world watching you walk around with your country’s flag. It’s one of those situations that will so satisfying when you’re done with your sport.
Are you interested in the other Olympic sports, too?
I am, and I enjoy just watching a lot of the other sports. As an athlete, I love watching other sports. I’m excited about watching the swim meet, the track meet, the basketball games. These are sports I’ve always tuned in and watched when I was growing up.
Do you know any other Olympic participants?
I do, several of the ones from Venezuela and some of the other ones, too, who I’ve met throughout my career. That will be even more special, getting to know some of the guys that I’ve watched compete. That will be awesome.
Being a native of South America, you’re more familiar with what to expect as far as the weather. So what will it be like?
I’ve competed in Rio many times, and I knew what to expect. It’s going to be similar to what you might get in Alabama in the summer, hot and humid, but there’ll be a lot of wind off the ocean. It’s going to be fun. My type of weather!
Venezuela is Brazil’s next-door neighbor. Do you expect any special support from the fans?
Obviously I’m from around the area. We’re playing in Brazil, and the Brazilians will be favorites, but to have some support would be nice. I know a lot of the people running the event, so it’s somewhat of a local event for me.
How long will you be staying in Rio? Will you have a chance to stay longer and enjoy the experience?
No, I’m just going to be able to go for the golf. I’ve got to get back to the PGA TOUR. The schedule is super tight, especially with the FedEx Cup playoffs around the corner. But that week (in Rio) we should have plenty to do there.
Who will be going with you?
I’m taking my family. My wife (Hildegard) and daughter (Sharlene Marie) and my parents. We’re looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great week