Waldman leaves Villegas' bag for N'wide Tour

Brett Waldman and Camilo Villegas at the 2009 PGA Championship.

Brett Waldman and Camilo Villegas at the 2009 PGA Championship.

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ORLANDO, Fla. – After eight years as a caddie, Brett Waldman needs one himself now.

The caddie for Camilo Villegas said Wednesday he will play the Nationwide Tour next year instead of working for one of golf’s top players. Waldman earned that shot by completing an amazing ride through Q-school and shooting a 68 in the sixth and final round.

It wasn’t enough to earn a PGA Tour card, but he is fully exempt on the next best tour in the United States.

The hardest part of his journey was the final decision – give up financial security by working for Villegas, or grind it out on a tour with no guaranteed pay from smaller purses.

"It’s just a dream," Waldman said. "I don’t want to look back knowing that I had the chance to do it and not doing it, and hating myself for it. I would always look back and say, ‘What if?’ There’s a reason I got to where I am. I might as well chase the dream."

Waldman, who played college golf at Kansas State and Central Florida, had not played competitively since he was eliminated from the second stage of Q-school in 2002. He went to work as a caddie for his cousin, Tom Pernice Jr., for Ben Crane and eventually Villegas.

On a whim – and with prodding from his wife, Angel – he decided to try PGA Tour qualifying this year and was one of only nine players who made it through a pre-qualifier (four rounds) and the next two stages of four-round tournaments. While trying to advance, he continued to work for Villegas as the Tour Championship and tournaments in China and Australia.

"I’m very happy for Brett," Villegas said. "We had a great talk during the Q-school tournament and then again after he earned his Nationwide card. He is chasing his dream and I fully support him. He knows that I will do everything I can to help him, but he’s already taken a very big step on his own. I’m proud of him."

Waldman said he decided to play after talking to his wife, several friends – including Dallas Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna – caddies and players. Support was one-sided, and he told Villegas of his decision on Tuesday night.

"Camilo was great," Waldman said. "I don’t think he was surprised. I think he expected it. I told him I was sorry, because I feel like we’ve got unfinished business. But all along, he has been unbelievable supportive and respectful."

Waldman will start his Nationwide Tour season the last week of February at the Panama Claro Championship. His next event will be in Colombia, of all places, the home country of Villegas.

"I can’t image I’m going to be as popular as he is – even though I did caddie for him," Waldman said with a laugh.

Even so, he has been amazed by the attention he has received. Waldman is not the only caddie capable of golf at a high level, and others have been on the PGA Tour before going to work as a caddie. What made him different was that he never reached the big leagues, and earned Nationwide status despite not having played serious golf in eight years.

"It was overwhelming, the amount of people supporting me," he said. "When you’ve got the best players in the world pulling for you, it’s pretty cool."

The first order of business: the former caddie finding a caddie for himself. He used PGA Tour caddies through Q-school, including the caddie for Matt Kuchar in two important stages. Waldman said he probably would ask a former college teammate.

"I’m pretty sure no one on the PGA Tour will want to caddie for me on the Nationwide Tour," Waldman said.

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