RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil’s Adilson da Silva had to control his nerves when he hit what he called the biggest shot of his life -- teeing off on Thursday to mark golf’s return to the Olympics.
Da Silva, the lone Brazilian golfer in the field of 60, was chosen by the International Golf Federation to hit the first ball at the Rio Games. It was an emotional homecoming after having had to move abroad as a teenager to pursue his career.
“Just before the tee off my head was everywhere,” the 44-year-old said after finishing his round on Thursday. “Don’t goof this, don’t make a scene.”
Da Silva’s unlikely path from being a caddie at a nine-hole golf course in Santa Cruz Do Sul in southern Brazil to taking the inaugural shot at the Rio Olympics was a circuitous route that took him to three continents.
Speaking to reporters after he carded a one over par 72 in his first round, da Silva broke down in tears recalling how as a child, he fashioned homemade golf clubs out of tree branches.
“Sometimes they weren’t thin enough,” he said, when asked about the branches, “I‘m very lucky. There was a lot of mixed emotions today.”
Da Silva grew up caddying for a tobacco executive, Andrew Edmondson, who would split his time between Brazil and Zimbabwe.
By 19, da Silva had gone from caddying to playing and had showed enough promise that he followed Edmondson back to Zimbabwe to focus on golf. In Zimbabwe, da Silva started playing under the guidance of Tim Price, the older brother of professional golfer Nick Price.
Da Silva turned professional in 1994 and later joined the Asian Tour and South Africa’s Sunshine Tour. He traveled extensively over the past year to tournaments in Asia to win points to help secure his Olympics qualification, leaving his wife Althia and son Marcelo at home in South Africa.
Da Silva said he enjoyed the support of the hometown crowd on Thursday, even if they were louder than he was used to.
He also had a familiar face carrying his clubs. Edmondson, da Silva’s former sponsor from Zimbabwe and the man who introduced him to the game, served as the golfer’s caddie on Thursday.
“He loved it. It was very special for him. It’s the least I could to do for Andy,” da Silva said.
Reporting by Liana B. Baker in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Alison Williams