Bortis and Vegas: Saving the best for last
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- University of Texas seniors Matt Bortis and Jhonattan Vegas have played countless rounds of golf throughout their collegiate careers, but on Wednesday, May 29, Bortis and Vegas will seemingly start from scratch when they approach the first tee at just after 8:30 a.m. Eastern.
Because, for Bortis and Vegas, Wednesday's opening round of the 2007 NCAA Golf Championships at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club will be their first in this tournament as Longhorns.
Though Bortis will tee off for the second time in the NCAA Championships, it will be his first NCAA appearance as a Longhorn. Bortis played three seasons at Arkansas, where he earned two All-Southeastern Conference selections, before coming to Texas for his final season of collegiate golf. Bortis played the 2005 NCAA Championships as a Razorback and ended in a tie for 62nd place.
"I was in awe of this event my first time here," Bortis said. "I remember stepping up on the first tee in the practice round and feeling like it had the aura of a professional golf tournament. That's the biggest thing I remember, and it was a positive.
"I remember the importance of staying patient. This tournament is four rounds instead of three, and in that first round, it's really easy to get in a bad rut and get a little impatient," Bortis added. "You have 72 holes and a lot of time to make it up, but it's so easy to lose that."
With two practice rounds on the Gold course at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club under his belt, Bortis has a feel for what it will take to succeed on this par 70, 6,803-yard layout.
"It's a ball striker's course," Bortis said. "You can get intimidated if you don't hit the ball tight off of the tee. The rough is thick around the greens, but if you can get through that, you'll play well."
Having played nine events this season, Bortis is quite the expert on assessing and attacking courses. Bortis' play was instrumental in the Longhorns' success last fall, as he helped Texas to victories at the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational and the Aloha Purdue Collegiate Invitational.
"Matt brought a lot of experience to our team, and we were happy for him to come to Texas," UT coach John Fields said. "He has progressed fairly quickly to the point where he has become a leader, and you can count on him."
Vegas has saved his one opportunity to play at the NCAA Championships for his last tournament as a collegiate golfer. It has been a long time coming, but Vegas' wait has certainly been worthwhile.
"I've worked all season for this tournament," Vegas said. "This is what it's all about; when you wake up every morning and spend all of your time on the course working on your game, it's all for this tournament."
Vegas' work ethic has never let up through his four seasons in Austin, and the proof is in the numbers.
The native Venezuelan's stroke average has dropped steadily since his initial season of collegiate golf. Vegas averaged 77.11 as a freshman, but he sliced that figure to 75.50 in his sophomore campaign and 74.64 in his junior season.
With two Top-10 finishes to his credit this season, Vegas' stroke average dipped below 74 to 73.83. Even so, he yearns for more.
"My season hasn't been as great as I wanted it to be," Vegas explained. "I have played well, but I have not played consistently well. But, I have continued to work hard, and I feel like I'm ready to play this tournament. I will put all of my heart into it."
That heart and effort hardly go unnoticed by Fields, who notes Vegas' leadership as a prime factor in Texas' success.
"Jhonattan has been a stabilizing force this year," Fields said. "We needed that leadership from him this year, and he brought it every time. His game progressed, and he continued to work hard. We're really happy that he's here at the NCAA Championships with our team."
Vegas is happy, too, particularly to have taken advantage of everything Texas has to offer.
"I've had the very best experience here," Vegas said. "Texas gives you the opportunity to develop your game and prepare for your future. Our environment is as good as it gets. I've taken advantage of it, and it has been wonderful."
He gets no argument from Bortis.
"I've only been here a year, but I've absolutely loved being at UT," Bortis said. "I've loved every bit of it. I'm excited to be here with this team, and we're going to try very hard to finish on a good note."