‘I played in the British Open, but playing The Olympics at home, that’s as big as playing the oldest Major. It’s like a dream come true to do something like that’
When Adilson da Silva left Brazil at 19 he didn’t imagine coming back to represent his country in the Olympic Games 25 years later.
‘It’s always really nice to go back and see where you started. To take stock of what you’ve done up until now. This will be quite a big experience, especially where I come from,’ he said.
The 44-year-old grew up in Santa Cruz du Sol in southern Brazil and caddied at the local country club. There he met Zimbabwean tobacco buyer Andy Edmundson and the two became friends. Edmundson recognised the youngster’s talent and offered to pay for him to play golf in Southern Africa.
‘My parents never had the money for me to go play on tour. In those days the game was very, very exclusive. I was fortunate to have Andy give me an opportunity to give it a try,’ says Da Silva, who proceeded to win 30 events and five Orders of Merit on the Zimbabwean PGA Tour.
He shares 14th on the list of golfers with the most Sunshine Tour wins (12), one less than SA golfing legend Dale Hayes.
Da Silva got a chance to pay back some of the generosity he received as a teenager when golf was readmitted to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. ‘Andy came up and said it would be his dream to caddie for me in The Olympics,’ he said. ‘Of course I said yes.’
The Brazilian visited South America for the Aberto do Brasil tournament last year and tied for eighth place on 12 under par. During the trip he went to the Olympic golf course and toured the holes.
‘The sea is right there. It goes sea, lagoon, golf course. I’m not sure what time of year the wind blows, but I like a bit of breeze, because it forces you to think your way around.
‘The layout is quite flat, but there are enough slopes to make you consider your options. There are some tight tee shots and the front nine has more of a links feel, while the back nine has a bit more vegetation. Two different sides, but a surprisingly good-looking layout,’ he said.
Last year at his national Open, Da Silva ran into familiar faces at Itanhanga Golf Club, but the players he knew a quarter of a century ago were no longer on tour. A wave of new Brazilian golfers, including Alexandre Rocha and Lucas Lee, were dominating the headlines.
‘We are only guaranteed one spot, so I need to keep an eye on these younger guys!’ Da Silva jokes. ‘Everything is done, so now we just have to wait.’
The venue is set and he is a shoo-in to compete at Rio 2016.
‘I’ve been fortunate enough to play some of the best golf courses in the world and they’re doing a good job in Rio. The course is looking really good and the fairways are beautiful already … although there are a lot of dog-legs,’ says the 1.75m golfer.
In 2014 he led the European Tour in driving accuracy and found 80.6% of his fairways. That accuracy, coupled with a wicked short game, make the Brazilian hopeful for Rio.
‘There will be some pressure to deliver because I am the top golfer from Brazil. Like the British Open, the layout opens the door for a lot of different golfers. It doesn’t look massive and I don’t think they can make it too long, so it should be a fun tournament,’ he says.
Da Silva has competed on big stages before and in 2012 tied for 69th place in his third playing of The Open Championship. His first bid for the Claret Jug was at the Old Course at St Andrews in 2000, where he missed the cut and watched Tiger Woods set the tournament low-scoring record of 19 under par. Seven years later he teed up at Carnoustie for the 136th Open, but again failed to make the weekend. Padraig Harrington won the first of his three Major titles that year.
‘I played in the British Open, but playing the Olympics at home, that’s as big as the oldest Major. It’s like a dream come true to do something like that,’ he says.
Da Silva has competed alongside Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, and Vijay Singh. He sees it as a bonus to tee up next to great players. Visiting Brazil last year rekindled his appreciation for the game and got him excited for the upcoming challenge.
‘Sometimes you forget how lucky you are, how the people make you feel special. You don’t always see those things while playing, because it’s like work for us. You forget to enjoy it and appreciate what you are doing. In August I will have a chance to do something special in a sport I love,’ he says.
The last time golf was played at the Olympics was in 1904, a year after the Wright brothers made their first flight. In 2016 the competition returns to the schedule in a four-round stroke play format that will be broadcast worldwide.
The potential to grow the game is huge, especially on the continent of South America, where golf is finding its feet.
‘In Brazil the golf is still very slow and we have a long way to go compared the rest of the world. Things are getting into shape and the Olympics is exactly what we need to build awareness. It will be a live broadcast and I think that will help to build interest,’ says Da Silva, who has made six cuts in his eight starts this year.
He failed to make the weekend at the Tshwane Open and the Zimbabwe Open earlier this season, but was sole second at the Royal Swazi Open and sole fourth at the KCM Zambia Open, which indicates his form is returning.
‘I started the year a bit slow, because my putting was letting me down. I caught myself being very upset and expecting too much. You need to let things happen and be patient, but I caught myself in time and have been improving since,’ he says.
The 2012 Brazilian Sportsman of the Year has won Sunshine Tour events in three different decades, most recently at the Sun City Challenge in 2013. He’s had four runner-up results since then and is 17th on the 2016 Order of Merit.
The consistency in Da Silva’s game has made him a regular threat on tour and he’s clocked up 23 top-10s in the past five years, including three top-fives between May and June 2016.
Doing well on the South African circuit is a far cry from competing for Olympic medals against 60 of the best players in the world. Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy will be there, along with Branden Grace and Jaco van Zyl.
‘If I have the chance to play with one of those guys I will enjoy every minute of it,’ says Da Silva. ‘It’s a big deal to represent your country against such famous names and being a links course, it doesn’t compensate anyone.’
Seven of the 60 contenders are South American and all of them will be relishing the chance to compete on their home continent. There is local pride on the line, like there was at the 2014 Fifa World Cup.
‘The guys from South America are good players and some of them have done very well worldwide. Emiliano Grillo [from Argentina] had a chance to win the other week, and it’s nice to have guys like that competing for medals,’ says Da Silva.
Some 25 years ago he left Santa Cruz du Sol to carve a path in the world of professional golf. In August the route brings him back home for the biggest sporting event in the world.
‘I left for Zim in 1991 and haven’t really thought about how many years passed since. I still have family over there, but I don’t get to see them very much,’ he says. ’Maybe one or two guys who knew me are around, and there will be some supporters, which is very nice.’
‘It’s a cherry on top to have a chance to represent my country,’ he adds. ‘It’s a big deal and, especially now that it’s in Brazil, it’s going to be the highlight of my career.’