Ranked outside the world's top 2000, it's a surprise in more ways than one that Venezuela's Joseph Naffah is challenging for the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne.
The 35-year-old was a controversial selection for his country by their topliner, PGA Tour star Jhonattan Vegas, who overlooked three higher-ranked players to choose Naffah.
Despite his lowly ranking the pair proved themselves on the Metropolitan course, shooting an opening round of seven-under 65 on Thursday.
The duo share a long history, becoming best friends as kids back in Venezuela through their love of golf.
They both won US college scholarships but Naffah's PGA Tour dream was derailed when he suffered a serious back injury.
Trying to avoid surgery, alternative treatments left him with a serious infection.
Faced with the possibility he wouldn't walk again he had the same spinal fusion operation that saved Tiger Woods' career – but needed three of them.
"I had three of the Tiger fusions," Naffah explained.
"They put a cage through the front (of his abdomen) and six screws in the back."
While Vegas has gone on to win three US Tour titles and bank more than AU$10 million, Naffah has spent the last two years on the third-tier PGA Latino-America tour but hasn't made a cut in 12 attempts.
RIGHT: Vegas selected his good friend Naffah for the World Cup despite having three-higher ranked countrymen available. PHOTO: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images.
But Vegas wanted his friend to experience a tournament at the top so when his younger brother Julio, who partnered him in the 2016 World Cup, couldn't play he asked Naffah.
"Spending so much time away from the game and then trying to play again, it's really hard," Vegas said.
"But when the opportunity came, I wanted to inspire him to play harder so I told him, 'If you have some good events that you make a cut or play solid or something, I'll definitely take you.’”
Naffah showed he wouldn't be a passenger at Metropolitan, nailing birdies at the 4th and 5th holes to pump up his team, with Vegas following up with an eagle at the 9th.
"I've played 12 events in Latin America and I didn't have one start like that, and I'm here on the PGA Tour and all of a sudden two birdies," Naffah said.
"Of course the rust is still there, but it's my first time here and it's not easy.
"My goal was always to play on the PGA Tour and I got lucky that my friend here picked me.
"It's just a gift to be here playing a World Cup event with him."
- Melissa Woods, Australian Associated Press