Sports / Newsmakers

Brazilian branching into history

By Associated Press (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-11 08:08

Host nation's lone golfer learned to play with clubs fashioned from tree parts

Brazilian branching into history

A caddie carries Adilson da Silva's clubs in a practice round in Rio. Brazil's da Silva will hit the first drive when the Olympic tournament opens on Thursday. [Photo/Agencies]

Imagine the deep sense of honor Adilson da Silva felt when the lone Brazilian in the 60-man field was chosen to hit the first tee shot in golf's return to the Olympics after 112 years.

"One of the most special times in my life," he said.

The honor is not his alone.

Joining da Silva on the first tee at Olympic Golf Course on Thursday will be Andrew Edmondson, who has been part of his unlikely career for nearly 30 years.

Edmondson asked to be his caddie for the week, and both men could only smile at the circumstances that led to this.

Long ago, on a nine-hole course in Santa Cruz do Sol about a two-hour flight south of Rio, it was the other way around.

Da Silva was an 11-year-old who saw golf only as a way to make a little pocket money.

"If we found golf balls, we would sell them," he said. "My parents didn't have much, so we had to do a bit of work. It teaches a good lesson. It was great fun. I used to go with my brother and friends."

The more he worked and watched, the more the game began to appeal to him, even without the proper equipment.

Finding golf balls to hit was the easy part. Getting clubs required a little more imagination. Santa Cruz was the only course in town, and spare clubs were in short supply.

"We used to cut the branches off trees and shape them into clubs," da Silva said.

"It was a proper head ... you just had to shape it up nicely. I guess you had to improvise. Your timing had to be right because the shaft would be wobbly."

Edmondson, a tobacco buyer from Zimbabwe, used to spend half the year working his trade in Brazil. He loved golf, which was much more prominent in Zimbabwe, a country that produced PGA pros Nick Price and Mark McNulty.

Edmondson would play during weekends at Santa Cruz, and da Silva was 11 when he first hired him as a caddie.

They became close friends, and da Silva became good enough to play with Edmondson whenever his mentor didn't have a regular game.

Edmondson knew the teen would have a hard time developing his game in Brazil.

"It really was a baby steps kind of thing," Edmondson said.

"He didn't go from an 11-year-old caddie to the professional level. Basically, I was living out there and was transferred back to Zimbabwe. They have a very good junior golf program, and I got him into that. He got coaching from Tim Price, Nick's brother."

Da Silva was 17, and Edmondson figured he played to a 5 handicap. Within a few years, da Silva was winning amateur titles in Brazil and Zimbabwe, and he was good enough by age 22 to turn pro.

His family still lives in Brazil, although da Silva has moved to Durban, South Africa, and plays primarily on the Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour in South Africa.

He has four career victories, starting with a Sunshine Tour event in 1998. His best year was 2013, when he won the Zambia Open and the Sun City Challenge.

Da Silva has qualified for the British Open three times, making the cut at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2012.

The Olympics tops them all.

As host nation, Brazil was guaranteed at least one player in Rio. Two Brazilians have made it to the PGA Tour - Lucas Lee this year and Alexandre Roche in 2011 and 2012.

Da Silva left nothing to chance, traveling across Asia to play seven times in eight weeks early in the year, staying away from his family in South Africa to chase world ranking points and secure his spot in Rio.

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