Jhonattan Vegas

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

A handful of family members and a few sporadic stragglers followed Jhonattan Vegas during his first match of this year’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday.

Thursday was different.

The gallery following Vegas’ match lined the ropes and spread four to five people deep at times. But most of those observers weren’t scurrying from hole to hole to get a glimpse of the former Texas Longhorn — they roared for Rory McIlroy instead.

As Vegas hiked from the third green to the fourth tee at Austin Country Club, some local supporters stayed true to their roots as they threw up their horns and bellowed “Hook ‘em!” in his direction.

Others simply let him walk by, their eyes fixed on the No. 7 golfer in the world. McIlroy held a 1-up advantage over Vegas at the time, and his fans encouraged him to extend it.

“Yeah, Rory!” boomed one of his followers.

“C’mon, ‘Rors’!” shouted another.

Vegas played his college golf at Texas from 2004-07 and graduated from the University with a degree in kinesiology, but McIlroy was clearly the crowd favorite.

“I don’t even know who Jhonattan Vegas is,” a voice from the gallery said after the players hit their tee shots on No. 4. “I only follow (Jordan) Spieth and McIlroy.”

Diehard Longhorn fans are surely fine with the former but maybe not with the latter. With both the odds and the crowd weighing against him, Vegas didn’t necessarily thrive in an underdog role. He fell 1 down early and dropped to 3 down when McIlroy made birdie on the 13th hole.

Still, Vegas had a chance to garner momentum at the 14th by sinking a 20-foot birdie, but his putt lipped out. Wednesday, fans screamed “Hook ‘em!” from the hospitality tent behind the 14th green. Thursday, they hollered “Alllright, Rory!” as last week’s champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational walked to the 15th tee with a chance to win the match. Vegas hung tough at 15, matching McIlroy’s par and pushing the match to the par-5 16th.

He wouldn’t let it end there, either.

McIlroy outdrove Vegas by 50 yards on the hole, but Vegas left himself in a better spot after the two played their second shots. McIlroy’s approach from less than 200 yards flared to the right while Vegas’ from 250 yards settled just short of the green. He hit a brilliant pitch from there to birdie the hole and send the match to the par-3 17th.

Vegas’ tee shot found the putting surface, 20 feet short of the pin. Once again, he failed to roll it in and was forced to rely on McIlroy to make bogey from just off the back of the green to push the match to the limit.

Not a chance.

The Northern Ireland native blew his chip shot six and a half feet past the hole, but he calmly knocked it in from there to earn a hard-fought 2 and 1 victory over Vegas. McIlroy struggled a day prior, losing 2 & 1 to Peter Uihlein. McIlroy didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole, but he was already 5 down at that point and needed a miracle to escape unscathed. He pushed, but it didn’t happen.

On Thursday, the former world No. 1 regained his form and won a match that was never truly in doubt. He said winning late in the day at Bay Hill on Sunday and then having to turn around and play more tournament golf in Austin on Wednesday took a toll on him. Unsurprisingly to himself, he regrouped a day later against Vegas.

“I'm never too far away (on) either side,” McIlroy said. “I'm never too far away from playing great. On the flip side, I'm never too far away from struggling. It's more of a mindset thing, and that's been the pattern of my career over the past ten years. I'm conscious of that — it's always great because I have the belief in myself that I'm able to flip it around very quickly.”

Unfortunately for Vegas, it’s officially too late to flip it around like McIlroy did. Vegas sits at the bottom of the group standings with half a point. Brian Harman, who halved with Vegas on Wednesday, leads with 1.5 points. McIlroy and Uihlein have one point apiece, which means Vegas has been eliminated.

Harman controls his own destiny to a weekend match, while a win for McIlroy either guarantees him that fortune or puts him in a playoff with Uihlein if Uihlein beats Vegas. Either way, McIlroy said he’s happy to be playing in a Friday match with high stakes — unlike last year.

“That’s the beauty of this group play,” McIlroy said. “Some years it works in your favor, like this year, and some years it doesn’t, like last. I played a match on Friday that was basically meaningless. It’s nice to still have something to play for tomorrow.”

Vegas, meanwhile, has nothing to play for but the Texas fans in his gallery who will flash their ‘hook ‘em’ hand signs and cheer him on — win, lose or draw.

Photo Credit: Jenna Von Hofe | Daily Texan Staff

Colt McCoy enjoyed a peculiar homecoming yesterday afternoon. From 2006–2009, the legendary former Longhorn quarterback accounted for more scoring tosses in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium than any other player in school history. But on Wednesday, he came out onto the field toting a golf bag instead of a pigskin, perhaps to the dismay of many Texas fans.

Accompanying him was professional golfer Jhonattan Vegas. A Longhorn alumnus himself, Vegas is a three-time PGA Tour winner and is taking part in this weekend’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, hosted at Austin Country Club.

To commemorate the return to his old college stomping grounds, Vegas sparred with McCoy in an informal game of trick golf on the hallowed gridiron:

Unsurprisingly, Vegas appeared to have bested McCoy in the opening round of festivities, which involved a duel over who could knock a golf ball into a trash bin from 50 yards away. Once that was settled, the ex-Longhorns switched gears, with McCoy attempting to catch one of Vegas’s shots on the fly in a remote-controlled toy car.

Check out the action in the video above.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Jhonattan Vegas started his first match of the World Golf Championships Dell Technologies Match Play just the way he wanted to — with an opening birdie and a 1-up lead over Brian Harman.

But Vegas, a former Longhorn, bogeyed the second to send the match to all square. Up and down defined Vegas’ round all afternoon on Wednesday at Austin Country Club. He drained a 30-foot birdie putt on the fifth to regain a 1-up advantage, only to lose the following hole when Harman birdied the par-5 sixth.

Vegas had a five-foot putt for par on the seventh hole to keep the match at all square. He burned it by on the edge, giving Harman the lead for the first time all day. The lefty kept a 1-up advantage over Vegas for much of the remaining round.

After his 30-footer dropped on the fifth, Vegas made just one putt over 10 feet over his next 12 holes. Sandwiched between Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, who were playing in front of and behind him, respectively, Vegas didn’t draw much of a gallery early on.

But even though he missed a plethora of putts for birdie, Vegas managed to keep Harman within reach on the back nine. Each missed opportunity heightened the tension surrounding the match as more and more fans flocked to the scene.

“Hey Jhonny, Hook ‘em, Horns!” one fan shouted from a hospitality tent behind the 14th green. Vegas, still 1 down at the time, stuffed his approach shot from 186 yards and left himself 9.5 feet for birdie. Unsurprisingly, he missed, and his frustration mounted.

“It was a little bit of a strain because I couldn’t make one,” Vegas said.

He had chances for birdies on the 16th and 17th holes, but he missed both of those, too. He walked to the 18th tee still only 1 down. Harman laid up, but Vegas brought out his driver. He bombed his drive down the hill, just 49 yards short of the pin.

Harman’s approach settled just over 20 feet from the hole. Vegas threw a low pitch shot inside of that to just under 10 feet. Harman missed, giving Vegas a chance tie it up and halve the match. By now, a decent gallery had gathered around the 18th green, many of whom sported various types of burnt orange attire. Some shouted “C’mon, Jhonny!” Others watched in nervous silence as he lined up his putt.

Buckets.

Vegas missed plenty of putts on the day, but he buried the most important one. His birdie at 18 earned him a crucial half point in the group standings. Without increasing fan support, though, the match might have ended differently.

“I would say that the fans definitely kind of pulled me through at the end there,” Vegas said. “Just playing here, a place that I’m really familiar with where I have a lot of friends, just getting the support is obviously important. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Given his struggles throughout the round, Vegas said he was pleased to walk off the course on day one without a loss.

“The way we played, I think we’re both OK with a half,” Vegas said.

“Every point here just counts,” he added. “You’ve got to give yourself the best chance.”

With the match play format, the Texas product has just that — another chance. He tees off at 12:04 p.m. on Thursday to battle McIlroy, who lost 2 and 1 to Peter Uihlein on Wednesday. Uihlein leads the group with a full point, half a point ahead of Vegas and Harman.

A win for Vegas would bring him one step closer to advancing to the weekend and would eliminate McIlroy, who surged into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings with his win last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Photo Credit: Emmanuel BriseƱo | Daily Texan Staff

On a picture-perfect morning at Austin Country Club on Monday, Dylan Frittelli stepped on the first tee, readying to tee off for a practice round in preparation for this week’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play.

But not before a familiar face joined him out of surprise.

Frittelli’s former University of Texas teammate, Jordan Spieth — who just so happens to be a three-time major champion and the No. 4 player in the world — was trailing from behind.

“I walked on the first tee, and I guess he followed me from the driving range,” Frittelli said.

Since the end of their college careers at Texas, in many ways, Frittelli has been the one trying to follow Spieth. While Frittelli, a South African native, has grinded overseas on the European Tour, Spieth has become one of the biggest stars in the game on the PGA Tour — a stage Frittelli hopes to one day become a mainstay on.

But on Monday, it was Spieth doing the following as he saw Frittelli head for the first tee.

“He’s just the same person he’s always been,” Spieth said of Frittelli. “He hasn’t changed a bit in the last five, six years.”

In the summer of 2012 at Los Angeles’ Riviera Country Club, Spieth and Frittelli led the Longhorns to a national championship — Texas’ first since back-to-back wins in the early 1970s, the days of legends Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite.

But it was Frittelli who clinched the win, sinking a 30-footer for birdie on the last hole of the decisive match. The 18th green at Riviera quickly turned into a madhouse, as Frittelli dropped his putter, threw down his hat and sunglasses and jumped into the arms of his teammates.

“People tend to forget I made the putt at the national championship,” Frittelli said. “But that was six years ago now, so it’s long gone in my memory. But it’s probably still my biggest moment in golf.”

Since then, Frittelli’s and Spieth’s careers have taken different routes.

Frittelli has won twice on the European Tour, most recently in Austria last June.

“It’s awesome to see because that work ethic (Frittelli) put in in college was a big part of the reason why I worked so hard in college — to try and beat him within our own team,” Spieth said. “That competitive nature has carried over into kind of creating a work ethic for both of us. As professionals, it has bred success for us.”

Spieth, meanwhile, had his breakout year on the PGA Tour in 2015, when he won five times, including at the Masters and U.S. Open. He won the British Open last summer in dramatic fashion. In total, Spieth has collected 11 wins on the PGA Tour.

Frittelli was jokingly asked on Monday what it was like to have Spieth as his groupie this week. But Frittelli quickly dispelled that.

“I’m Jordan Spieth’s teammate,” Frittelli said with a smile. “That’s the big flier on the PGA Tour and European Tour. Hoping to change that. Maybe one day he’ll be co-teammate or something to that effect.”

And maybe someday that could be the case. Frittelli’s dream is to eventually move back to Austin one day and play on the PGA Tour — and of course, win majors like Spieth. 

This week at Austin Country Club, playing against 64 of the top 69 players in the world, Frittelli’s getting a small glimpse of that dream.

“I want to play the best golfers in the world,” Frittelli said. “They happen to be in the U.S. right now, and that’s where I want to live. I’ll stay here in Austin. I’m taxed here in the U.S. That’s basically where I see myself in the future.”

Frittelli and Spieth aren’t the only Longhorns in this week’s field. There’s also Jhonattan Vegas, who played at Texas from 2004–07, just a few years before Spieth and Frittelli helped deliver a national title.

Vegas’ PGA Tour career has largely been up and down. He broke onto the scene in 2011 when he won the Bob Hope Classic. He’s won twice on Tour since then.

Inside the Austin Country Club locker room, a signed picture of Vegas holding the trophy from his first win still hangs on the wall.

“You know what, I’ve seen it once or twice,” Vegas said. “All the good people around Austin Country Club makes this place phenomenal. So obviously, every time I just park in this parking lot, have a huge smile on my face, it has a lot of fond memories being here in Austin. So it’s always a good place that I feel comfortable.”

Vegas, along with Spieth and Frittelli, will try to make some more memories at Austin Country Club this week.