Colombia’s Nico Echavarria, Camilo Villegas look to bring camaraderie, shared Olympic dream and patriotic pride to Paris

The screensaver on his phone is a constant reminder. Five rings – blue, yellow, black, green and red – intertwined, three on top of two. The iconic symbol of the Olympics.

Every time Nico Echavarria looks at his phone, he sees that image, and he thinks about how much he wants to join his long-time friend and mentor Camilo Villegas in representing their native Colombia at the 2024 Summer Games in Paris. He’s tantalizingly close to realizing that goal, too, as the countdown to the competition Le Golf National in August continues.

“It's something actually, my coach asked me like, ‘Hey, I want you to have something in mind when you're playing,’” Echavarria said. “’I want you to play for something bigger than birdies, bogeys or pars. I want this to be a reward for you with the good work that we've done.’”

Hence, the rings and the Olympic dream that Villegas, who thinks of Echavarria as a little brother, shares. The two are separated by 13 years, but their families in Medellin are close and they learned the game at the same golf club.

He’s been an example to me on and off the golf course. … I see him as a friend that he'll give me the best advice that I need, and that's the world to me. And to hopefully play in the Olympics with him would be incredible.

Nico Echavarria

“I grew up watching him,” Echavarria said of Villegas. “He’s been an example to me on and off the golf course. … I see him as a friend that he'll give me the best advice that I need, and that's the world to me. And to hopefully play in the Olympics with him would be incredible.”

The two occasionally stay together on the road, and Villegas has become a sounding board for Echavarria, who won the Puerto Rico Open in just his 11th start as a PGA TOUR member last year. The elation of that victory was tempered, though, when Echavarria missed the cut in 15 of his next 20 starts.

Villegas, who has won five times on the PGA TOUR, including last year’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship that broke a nine-year victory drought, was there to help his countryman stay positive. Job security is a powerful thing, too.

“It is very easy for expectations to go up and things to change a little bit,” Villegas explained. “But I told him, hey, listen, you just bought time for yourself. It's a super season because it was a long season. You're going to get to play three years on TOUR.

“It is not that important what you do in the next six months in terms of results. What's important is what you do in those six months that it's going to prepare you for next year and the following year. It was good he bought time for him to do the right things and keep growing as a player.”

Now, the Olympics are on the horizon. Villegas actually had a chance to play in the Summer Games when golf returned to the Olympic rota in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, as well as in Tokyo in 2020, but he skipped both opportunities while working to solidify his grip on his playing privileges on TOUR.

“I've always said, ‘You don't build a career from one tournament, you build a career from having a TOUR card,’” Villegas said. “And I felt like that was the best decision for me. It was a sad one. I really wanted to be there.

“But I think with my win last year in Bermuda, things change, and I am exempt for next year, so we will be there.”

Echavarria has represented his country several times as an amateur, both individually and in the in the Eisenhower Cup. But he says it would be “incredible” to wear the Colombian flag on his chest on the world’s biggest stage at the Olympics.

“It would be great for the sport,” Echavarria said. “For the last couple of years, I've talked a lot about how Columbia lacks public golf. There's a lot of country club golf, which limits the opportunity for kids to grow the games. Soccer is huge.

“So, I think giving a medal to my country in this sport would be incredible.”

Villegas, who is an avid long-distance cyclist and fitness enthusiast, represented Colombia in two World Cups and played for the International Team in the 2009 Presidents Cup. He knows that he and Echavarria will have a lot of support in Paris.

“We follow our Colombians,” Villegas said. “Colombia's a small country, but every time there was a medal being earned, it was special for our country. And the country goes crazy, so hey, maybe we can get 'em crazy this year.”