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January 20, 2011

Jhonattan Vegas


MARK STEVENS: Like to welcome Jhonattan Vegas, our first round leader and currently holds the second round lead, but play is not over yet for the day. Still continuing to hit a lot of fairways, you rank first right now in the field. Kind of take us through your round and then we'll take a few questions.
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yes, just hitting it good from the tee, which is always good, especially on a course like this. But, you know, a great round.
I got started again really well. Making a couple of birdies in the first few holes. Which is always good. It's always good to get the round going. I feel like I'm hitting the ball well, my putting has been really well, compared to last week, so it's good, it's good to be hitting the ball well and putting well. Especially on a course like these ones where you always got a lot of birdie opportunities, it's good to be making putts.
But overall it was a good round, unfortunately a couple of bad swings, a couple of bogeys in the round, which that does happen, that's part of the game, I guess. But you got to take it as you go, but it's never fun to finish with a bogey. And, but it was a great round and I'm comfortable the way I am and playing good.
MARK STEVENS: Questions.

Q. Is it true in your bio it says you started you learned the game with broom sticks and rocks, is that right?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yeah, kind of. I was around my parents, because they're the ones that raised me, because I generally just picked up what I could find and swing at everything I could find around.
So usually I hit plastic balls, rocks, whatever I could find around and start hitting everything around the house, breaking windows and all kinds of stuff around. So that's kind of how my game started, just by looking at my dad. He's been always a good and big fan of golf and so just by looking at him I just started doing it.

Q. Why did your dad like golf so much? Do you know?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yeah, he kind of grew up picking range balls and caddieing a little bit and in a golf course in Caracas which he kind of got that love for golf. Just as an early youngster. He really lived right near a golf course, it was a way to make money, and he did it for money and it was something to do.

Q. And what are the courses like in Venezuela generally?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: We got some really good courses, actually. I think that some, I mean, they're short courses, they were long 50 years ago, but now with technology it's short. But they got some nice ones. It's good courses to kind of grow up and develop a good game.

Q. When were you first coached in golf as far as having an instructor or how much did your dad coach you?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: My dad coached me some. Especially through those first years. But I was fortunate enough to have a really good instructor that worked on the course that I was practicing. So I worked with him for a few years, especially the first four or five years as a youngster.
And then I was lucky enough to meet with Franci Betancourt, which is one of my current golf teachers and he's a phenomenal golf teacher, great golfer. He played like three Ryder Cups or World Cups for Venezuela, so he's been always a good golfer and later on he decided to become a golf teacher. And he has got a good knowledge about the game and he improved my game a lot and we're still working together.

Q. Did you feel encouraged to play, obviously your dad loved the game, but in Venezuela, obviously soccer is, King, right?

Q. Did you feel encouraged to play golf, did you ever feel like it wasn't important enough in your country to not play it?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: It was always fun because my family has to do everything with golf. From an early age, we did everything related to golf. If we're going to go on a vacation, a golf course had to be near, near the place.
So it was always fun and in golf, I mean it just happened, it just, I guess I was born with it, where I played all the other sports, but I never felt the passion that I did with golf.
So I started having some success as a young kid and you build that love for the game and which I still have.

Q. What's your dad's first name?

Q. And how did he end up spelling your first name?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: That's a good question for them. But it was just something that they just wanted to make it a little different. I guess you could spell it the Venezuelan way, but we did something different, which I'm happy they did it that way because it's something different. I mean you only see one Jhonattan spelled that way, so once you see it, you know that it's me, so it's something good, I guess.

Q. Did you get to watch much golf on TV growing up? What tournaments came on TV?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I didn't really watch much golf on TV. I guess I started watching golf on TV when Tiger Woods won the '97 Masters. I was, what, 12, 13, at the time. So that's kind of when I really started watching a little golf and developing that passion of wanting to be a professional golfer and so that's kind of one of the things that led me to be here.

Q. What does it feel like to be in the lead of a PGA TOUR event?

Q. Obviously --
JHONATTAN VEGAS: It's a lot of fun. That's the way I take it. So I'm enjoying it as much as I can because we know how complicated golf can be. So I'm enjoying it, having a good time as I always do. And I'm just loving it, trying to play the best I can, and things worked out so I'm leading right now.

Q. You leave PGA West, you go to the other two courses the next two days, have you seen much of them? Do you know much about those golf courses?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I guess I was fortunate enough to not play on Sunday, fortunate in one way, but unfortunate in another way, last Sunday in Hawaii, where I was able to take a flight Saturday night and get here to L.A. on Sunday morning and play a practice round on Sunday, and then played 27 holes on Monday and Tuesday.
So I got to see all the courses. So I'm feeling comfortable, I know the course tomorrow is going to be long, so I'm excited and it suits my game fairly well, so hopefully it's a good round too.

Q. If I remember from the U.S. Amateur at Olympic I walked around with you, you reached the semis.

Q. And was that your first major introduction to big time-golf and what did you do since then and obviously you know The Open will be at Olympic next year. I just wondered if you thought of that?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yes, I know that. Yeah, that was actually where my first, I guess big tournament where I watched on TV and all this stuff and people started thinking about me. But, yes, that was a huge experience. I think I took a lot of that, I mean from that, I proved myself to be one of the top amateurs at the time. Which that gives that you confidence to keep going forward.
Just having success, especially in a place like that where there's so many great players, it's always fun in that tournament that's so good as the U.S. Amateur. But that gave me a lot of confidence and it gave me a lot of confidence and I really hope to be playing in the U.S. Open there at Olympic, which is a course I like a lot.

Q. Who did you lose to in the semis, Colt Knost or the other guy?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I lost to Colt Knost, yes. Lost to the champion.

Q. Did your parents meet through golf, did your mom play or did your dad teach her?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: My dad lived in Caracas, as I said, and my mom went there to a vacation with some of her cousins and, but no, I really haven't asked that question in detail, but I know they went there and they met in Caracas somehow. Through friends, I think.

Q. Not on the golf course?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Not on the golf course, no.

Q. What did your dad do?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: My dad has always been around with the in the food business, so he has a catering business right now. And he's always been around restaurants and having his own catering company.

Q. So you ate well growing up.
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yes. You can see that.

Q. When did you learn to speak English, because your English is so good, and how hard was that process?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: It was a tough process. When I came here in 2002, I didn't really speak much English. I could say hello, good-bye, and thank you, I guess. And so it was tough. It was a tough process, but I was fortunate enough to surround myself with good people in Houston. And I met good people that really helped me with the English, I was always playing golf with them, I was able to go to school, to go to a community college, took some classes, kind of learned the proper way.
But it was tough, it took me a good year and a half to get it fairly decent to be able to go to college to pass all the tests to go to Texas. And I think once I got to UT I was able to, I mean you're in class, you're always speaking, reading, so that's kind of when my English got a lot better.

Q. What brought you to Houston?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: It was actually my golf teacher, Franci, him and his family. I came to play in one day in the Venezuela Junior in 2001 and they had Junior World here in San Diego and so on the way here my golf teacher from Venezuela, he had moved to Houston at the time.
So I came and stopped in Houston to just work and get better. So I kind of played Junior World, went back to Houston and when I was there his son Gustavo told me, he said, why don't you come here, he's a good friend of mine, go to school here, learn English, play golf here, which is great. He had been here a few years at the time. So that kind of convinced me to do that.
And it looked like a great opportunity for me and my parents and we decided to go ahead and do it. I got to thank them a lot for just putting that on my way.

Q. So the whole family came, everybody moved?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: No, I moved by myself, but I came to live with them, with Franci, my golf teacher, and his wife Alba, and son Gustavo. I was living with them, but like I said, I left my family when I was 17, so that was tough. But they were good friends, so it was comfortable being with them.

Q. So did you stay right after Junior World or did you go back to Venezuela and then back to Houston?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I went, Junior World was in July, I guess or June, of 2002. June or July. So then I was there and then I came back in August. So I spent I guess a month there and got everything ready and then came here.

Q. Do you go Venezuela in the off season?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I do. It's probably the, I guess the best time for me. I usually spend a few weeks in Venezuela for Christmas, that's kind of when I go and see the family and see the friends. So it's always good to go home and spend time with them and remember good times.

Q. What's it like being a golfer from Venezuela? Doesn't Chavez really dislike golf?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I don't really know if he dislikes it or what, I know that he's really trying to shut down some of the golf courses, and he had already done that to a few of those. But being a golfer there, it's not something big that people would know around it, but hopefully when people will start noticing and golf will start getting a lot more attention inside the country and we'll start getting more players out of there.

Q. If you won a big tournament would Hugo want to see you? Would you talk to him? What would you say about golf?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: I don't know, I really hope so. I really hope so, because I'd love the chance to tell people about golf in Venezuela. So I would love to see what he thinks and how can we make golf a lot better. Hopefully -- he's always said that golf is a, it's for elite people, I guess, and which as we all know here it's not that way. But I guess that he's got that mentality. So I really hope to sit down with him and talk to him and tell him that it's not that way.

Q. There was an article in the New York Times about six weeks ago about I guess the big country club in Caracas and the fact that sort of everything swirls around, the people belong, they go to their functions there, and they don't know if it's going to be closed down or kept open or what. I just wondered if you have any communication and not with that club but people in Venezuela about what might happen?
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Yeah, I mean, they understand that -- the understanding that I have about that is just that we have been getting a little rain down there, so I don't know if you know, but we got a lot of houses in the mountains, so a lot of people have been losing their houses.
And the golf courses are usually in flat areas in Caracas, which it's hard to find a flat spot there. So I guess he's been looking into shutting down some of those courses and start building houses and buildings and all kinds of stuff there, which is unfortunate because we don't have too many green areas in Caracas, so that's pretty much the only place and it would be sad to see that happen.
MARK STEVENS: Well, thanks a lot and good luck the rest of the week.
JHONATTAN VEGAS: Thank you, guys.

End of FastScripts

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