AVONDALE, La. – Jamie Lovemark played 27 holes at TPC Louisiana on Friday. Jhonattan Vegas slogged through 30 on a hot, humid day that was to the Venezuelan’s liking. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is for two players who have had promising careers stalled by injury.
When play was suspended at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at 7:31 p.m. CDT Friday because of darkness, Lovemark and Vegas shared the lead at 11-under 133.
Lovemark, 28, was a member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team and seemingly a can’t-miss-kid when he turned pro in 2009 and instantly finished tied for second at the Frys.com Open that fall. Back surgery sidelined him in 2011. When he returned to the Tour in 2014, his swing was a mess, and he lost his card. Lovemark has spent the past two years working with swing instructor Chris Como, and the hard work finally is paying dividends.
“Most everything seems to be decent,” Lovemark said. “It’s all a process and slowly improving.”
His wedge to the par-5 18th hole was a thing of beauty. Lovemark posed as it landed with a thud on the soft greens and spun back to 4 feet. He sank the putt for his seventh birdie on the par 5s this week en route to a 5-under 67.
Will Wilcox, who has played several practice rounds with Lovemark this season and was paired with him for the first two rounds, marveled at Lovemark’s deft touch for a big guy (he’s 6 feet, 4 inches) and said, “He’s long and he’s hitting it straight, so if he keeps hitting it on this planet off the tee, he’s going to be tough to beat.”
Lovemark’s caddie, David Streza, echoed that sentiment and said Lovemark is in a comfortable place: healthy, happy and in love. He’s engaged to be married in October.
It has rubbed off on his golf game, too. So far, Lovemark has posted four top-10 finishes and entered the week ranked 34th in the FedEx Cup point standings. He had a chance to win in Houston but staggered to a 76 on Sunday. When asked what he can draw on from that experience, he said, “Just got to believe in myself and keep pushing through.”
That mantra would serve Vegas, who won the 2011 CareerBuilders Challenge in just his second PGA Tour start, well too. The 31-year-old Vegas, who now makes his home in Houston, has battled back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss almost the entire 2013 season after undergoing surgery. The setback burned a hole in his confidence. Last year, he recorded just one top-25 finish and had to compete in the Web.com Tour Finals, failing to secure his Tour card.
“It’s hard to put the whole game together. It takes time,” he said.
On the bright side, Vegas said his shoulder is “100 percent” again. He hasn’t let his limited past-champion status hold him back. Like Lovemark, Vegas has had his chances to break into the winner’s circle again. He contended at the Frys.com Open (T-10) and Sanderson Farms Open (T-4), and was blown away by high winds at Torrey Pines, shooting a final-round 80 (T-18). But he takes solace in that he’s getting closer to achieving his goal.
“I’ve won before, and I can do it again,” he said.
His confidence extends to his putting. He switched to a counterbalanced Nike Method putter after missing the cut at Pebble Beach, and it has made all the difference. He ranks seventh in strokes-gained: putting through two rounds at the Zurich. Vegas shared the first round lead with Brian Stuard after shooting 64 and backed it up with a 69. Winning has proved hard to come by for Lovemark and Vegas. What would it mean to be showered with beads as the victor in The Big Easy on Sunday?
“It would make life so much easier,” Vegas said.