Some people say 35-year-old Camilo Villegas would be better at his job if he didn’t ride so much. Fortunately, he’s too busy hammering to listen.
Camilo Villegas, the lean record-breaking pro golfer from Colombia, loves to ride his bike -and says his “obsessive cycling disorder” helps him deal with the stresses of his profession.
“Some say maybe I overdo the bike,” he says. “Maybe. Maybe not. The way I see my golf career and my cycling is that I need balance. Cycling energises me and calms my mind, which I need for my game.” We caught up with Villegas to learn what he loves about both sports.
That first ride. I did BMX as a kid and loved watching the Grand Tours, but I never got into road biking until I went back to Colombia after the 2007 PGA Tour season. A good friend said we should go ride this 16km, 6% average grade climb. I loved it. They say to like cycling you better love to suffer. I guess I love to suffer. I bought a bike the very next week…and then another one so I could have one in Colombia and one in Florida where I live in the US.
Duking it out with the pros. I knew a guy from high school who rode with a fast group in Colombia. I figured if I wanted to get good I should call him. He invited me on a group ride shortly after I got my bike. There are 11 guys and one of them is [2002 world time trial champion] Santiago Botero. I’m like, ‘S**t. What have I got myself into?’ It was so awesome, though. The hills were so steep and they tried to hurt me. But I survived and became part of the group. I rode with Botero and (2017 Tour de France runner-up) Rigoberto Urán last December. Me being 68kg helps on the climbs. We have some great tough rides. We give a lot of crap to each other. But that makes it fun. We’re suffering and smiling at the top.
Finding balance. Many pro golfers have sport psychologists to cope with the pressure of the game, the zoo of the PGA Tour. The bike is my meditation. I’m focused on my breathing, the road, and holding the wheel in front of me. It energises me and calms my mind, which I need for my game. You shouldn’t put 120 per cent of your energy into one thing. There needs to be balance and regeneration. Cycling is that for me. It puts a smile on my face.
Those nerves. When I first started riding, I did some local road races in Colombia. I actually won four in the sprint for the finish. Nothing’s better than a hard ride when you’re in the mix and planning your attack. It’s like coming into the final holes when you’re in contention to win a golf tournament - it’s a similar anxiety and little bit of nervousness. But that’s what we like, right? All your senses are very alive.
On his trainer once asking if he wanted to be a pro cyclist or the PGA Tour’s money leader: Cycling is my passion, but golf is my life. I like riding and winning races on my bike. It doesn’t pay the bills, though, so I have to be careful. I’ll be the first to admit I overdo it a bit. I don’t travel with my bike because when I’m golfing, I have to focus on golfing. But when I have a week off, I’ll do 300, maybe 600km that week. I used to ride 160km to visit my girlfriend, now wife, when she lived in Miami. But to recover, I foam roll on my RumbleRoller every day - before and after my workouts - and stretch and respect my sleep. I think riding enhances my golf more than it takes away from it. You learn how to suffer and stay mentally strong when you’re getting dropped or get a flat during a race. You need that mental strength in golf.
Too skinny for golf? The game has changed a lot. When I started [in 2004], I was top 10 in driving distance. I’m not in the top 50 right now and I’m hitting the ball almost as far. People say, “You’re too skinny from cycling. You’re not going to hit the ball farther”. There may be a tiny bit of truth to that. But I’m 5-foot-9 and I try to stay within my frame. When guys get heavier and stronger, you see more injuries. I’d rather hit 5 yards shorter and be consistent and not have injuries.