Giving back

Cabo leader Camilo Villegas and wife have made heroic strides since death of their daughter

November 03, 2023

Camilo Villegas hits a shot during the second round of the World Wide Technology Championship.


Headlines and stories about tragedy draw interest and empathy, and there were few tales in golf over the last few years more harrowing than the illness and death of Camilo Villegas’ daughter.

In March 2020, amid the early days of the COVD-19 pandemic, Villegas—the four-time tour winner known for his Spiderman putt-reading pose—and his wife, Maria Ochoa, took their 17-month-old daughter, Mia, to the doctor because she was complaining of her head hurting. They soon got a crushing diagnosis: brain and spine cancer. Despite chemotherapy treatment, Mia died four months later.

The golf world reacted with deep sadness and enveloping support, and when Villegas returned to competition that July in the Korn Ferry Tour Challenge at the urging of his wife, it was with incredibly mixed emotions. “Golf,” Maria Ochoa told Camilo, “is what you’ve done over all these years and golf has given you so many great things,’ and little Mia has been inspiring these last few months to keep doing what we’re doing.”

“That’s why I’m here,” Villegas concluded.

Life and professional golf go on, however, with a family left to grieve, heal and move forward. And while Camilo and Maria have made tremendous contributions to children’s health care in the time since Mia passed, their achievements have gone mostly under the radar.

Of course, the best way they can be acknowledged is for Villegas to get attention by putting his name on the top of the leaderboard. And after several years of deep struggle with his game, the 41-year-old Colombian is making a big splash in this week’s World Wide Technology Championship. In the first playing of the event at the Tiger Woods-designed El Cordonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Villegas shot a second straight 8-under-par 64 on Friday to hold the solo lead at 16 under.

“You always want to play good, man,” Villegas said on Friday evening. “You just focus on the process and just keep grinding. Our job is a lot better when you're playing good, but like I said yesterday, doesn't really change. You wake up with the same purpose. It's a frustrating game. We go through the ups and downs. It's nice to be on a good note these first two days.”


Camilo Villegas and his wife, Maria Ochoa, sit together during the 2009 Presidents Cup at Harding Park.

Scott Halleran

It can’t be overstated what a big weekend this could be for Villegas. He can produce his first top-10 finish since the Honda Classic in March 2021, and a victory would earn him two years of full-time status—huge, because he’s played this season from a Past Champion category that has provided only 11 starts.

If Villegas’ golf hasn’t been particularly fulfilling in the last three years, the work that he and Maria have done to honor Mia’s memory is remarkable—and ultimately far more important. They transformed Camilo’s existing foundation into Mia’s Miracles, which supports children and their families in Florida and Colombia who are facing medical issues.

In an interview with Jupiter Magazine published in May 2022, Maria Ochoa said the couple works with the Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, where Mia was diagnosed when Jack and Barbara Nicklaus helped get the girl examined quickly. Mia’s Miracles “adopts” families and provide financial assistance to pay for rent, groceries and therapies not covered by insurance.

“The Christmas before last, there was a young patient at Nicklaus who was alone for four months getting treatment because the family in El Salvador couldn’t afford to be there too,” Ochoa told Jupiter. “So, we got the mom a visa so she could come here. We do so many different things like this for families, from burial services to activities for kids to self-care baskets for moms with babies in NICU units.”

Through the foundation, a hospital in Colombia that once had to turn away 50 babies a month got a NICU unit. The couple also has contributed to the well-being of staff at Nicklaus Children’s by funding areas at the hospital called Mia’s Serenity Space, where doctors and nurses can go to relax.

“You know, the sport has been unbelievable,” Villegas said on Friday. “To see so many people smile, so many children going through tough moments like we did, and just be able to just give a little smile, make their day, make a parent's day … ”

Maria is not with Camilo this week, he said, because she is busy with the foundation’s work. There’s also one very precious responsibility. The couple’s healthy boy, Mateo, was born in December 2021.

“It’s kind of funny,” Maria recalled for Juptier, “because Mia was born at 7:56 p.m., and Mateo was born at 7:56 a.m. When they told me the time of birth, I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I believe Mia sends me little messages from time to time, and this was one of them. So, I knew everything was going to be OK.”