Everyone knows that making the adjustment from high school to college is one of the most difficult things for a young person to do. Throw in the regiment of playing a sport and the transition becomes that much tougher. Now, throw in a transition to a new country and new culture and that is what golfer Jhonattan Vegas has gone through over the past year.
"Coming to school at Texas was a huge change for me," explained the sophomore from Maturin, Venezuela. "I didn't know what I was going to face when I got here in the spring. I think that is why I didn't play that well during my first semester. It was really hard on me."
Before getting to Texas, Vegas made a stop in Houston for a year-and-a-half. He needed to work on his English before he would be able to attend school in the United States. So, after graduating from high school in Venezuela, Vegas followed his golf coach to Houston where his mornings were spent working on his English and his afternoons were spent working on his swing.
"It was pretty crazy, because I needed to get better at English, so I could do well on the tests," explained Vegas. "I worked really hard to get better at it and I got a chance to work on my golf game as well."
The hard work paid off and Vegas was set to attend the University of Texas beginning with the spring semester of 2004. The transition ended up being almost more than he could handle, but he kept his priorities in order.
"I had a tough time balancing my school work and playing golf," said Vegas. "But, I knew that I needed to focus on my studies, because if I didn't do well there, I wouldn't be able to play golf anyway."
Thus, Vegas had a difficult time concentrating on golf. When he would play in tournaments, he would wonder if he had his homework done or if there was a project he needed to finish. He was struggling to focus and he began to get overwhelmed. So, after consulting with Texas head coach John Fields, Vegas planned to redshirt the entire 2004-05 season.
He headed back to Venezuela, took some Internet courses to keep up on his studies and went back to work on his golf game. While there, Vegas tried out for the Venezuelan national team, got a chance to be with his family and basically re-energized himself in preparation for his return to Texas.
"During my first year, I put so much pressure on myself," explained Vegas. "Getting back to Venezuela and being around my family was a big help. They told me to just relax and have fun and not put so much pressure on myself."
Vegas struggled in his first tournament of the 2005 season, shooting a 26-over-par 242 at the Southern Highlands Collegiate Championship, but instead of putting more pressure on himself, he remembered the advice of his parents and put that tournament behind him and prepared for the Hall of Fame Invitational. There, he showed glimpses of why he turned college coaches' heads while playing in junior tournaments. He tied for 29th place at five-over-par, which included a two-under-par 70 during the second round. From there, he proceeded to have his best tournament as a Longhorn, when he finished the National Invitational Tournament in a tie for 19th place at three-under-par.
His teammates have been right there to see the difference in Vegas from last year to this year.
"Jhonattan has one of the purest swings I've ever seen," said junior Matthew Rosenfeld, which is high praise from someone who was recently selected as a semifinalist for The 2005 Ben Hogan Award. "He is so long, but he needed to get comfortable playing collegiate golf. I think we've helped him a little bit, but you can see he is starting to get it and he has been playing solid golf this semester."
"I've known Jhonattan for a little while now. We've been playing together since he moved to Houston," said senior Shaun Goodwin, a Spring, Texas native. "This is the most comfortable I've seen him. It takes time for anyone to get comfortable. I don't think his golf game has changed too much. I just think he is used to it now. But, he has been working hard."
The coaching staff has also seen the change.
"To come to the University of Texas to play golf, knowing the tradition, and jump right in the lineup is a tough thing for anyone to do," said Texas head coach John Fields. "He was a little behind the eight ball, golf wise, because he had focused so much on his studies, but the nice thing was that he was a better prepared academically to be at Texas. He didn't play well at first and it was kind of a blow to his confidence. He is such a good kid and he has responded well over the past year. I think he is going to put it all together and be competitive for us on a consistent basis."
"Jhonattan appreciates everything that Texas has to offer," said Texas assistant coach Steve Keasler. "He doesn't take anything for granted and he is here for all the right reasons."
It's been quite a journey from Maturin to Houston to Austin, but after a long year, Jhonattan Vegas is starting to feel at home, right where he belongs, on the golf course.