The long shot that changed the life of a homeless caddy

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Llewellyn Barnes in front of his house – a shipping container on a golf course in South Africa

Llewellyn Barnes was so poor growing up that he would use the broken leg of a crutch to hit bottle caps as a golf exercise, the sport he loved.

Deprivation has been a constant for the South African who was homeless until December, slept on porches in Pretoria and unsure where his next meal was coming from .

But thanks to an unlikely wave dream that had survived both decades of denial and significant substance abuse, his life changed overnight.

This means that Barnes made his debut in a professional golf tournament last month – at the age of 59.

"I was very nervous at the first hole – my hands were shaking so much that I almost missed the ball," he told BBC Sport Africa. "It was unnerving. "

But it was also the moment when a & # 39; dream came true & # 39; for this former caddy, who would impressively make the cut, amid a life full rut.

"If I didn't get a bag for caddy, I dig [would] golf balls out of the river, sell them to players, then get something to eat," he explained. " Sometimes you didn't get anything, you just starved for the night. "

In the rough

It may be a shipping container but Llewellyn Barnes finally has a place to call home

When he was 10, Llewellyn's father died – making it difficult for his mother to to take care of seven children.

"It was difficult for her to keep us all together," he recalled. & # 39; Wellbeing came in and sent us away. & # 39;

Being separated from his family was difficult, especially considering the circumstances at his boarding school in Centurion, halfway between Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

Yet his challenging school had a silver lining in that it introduced him to one of his passions of life.

"Teachers weren't that great – they always beat us and looked down on us," he recalled nearly half a century later.

"I was very lucky that my school was on a golf course in Zwartkop, [near] Pretoria, and I found golf and fell in love with it."

"It looked so peaceful when you got on the golf course. You just felt like you were always outside, it looked like paradise."

After school, the boys would be chosen as caddy, a job Llewellyn never wanted to miss.

"When they came for caddies, I was always the first because I wanted the money," he said. & # 39; At the time, it was [nearly half a dollar] which was a lot of money. & # 39;

School life became so unbearable when he was 13 that he ran to Durban on the south coast, where he sold newspapers and slept on public transport to survive. .

However, the relative harbor did not last long when he was forced back to school, this time in Cape Town, where he gave up permanently because he found little experience.

"I was 18 years old so I dropped out of school and decided to go back to the golf course at ZwartKop where I would play caddy, dig balls out of the river and sell them to I live, "he explained.

Since it was not easy to find a job without formal training, Llewellyn moved from one junior job to another, in between caddy opportunities, before often becoming homeless sleep in the foliage of the course.

Llewellyn finally achieved his golf dream in March when he started his career at the age of 59

"I slept on the golf course "Just to get off the road," he said. "You couldn't sleep at night because you had to watch out for gangs. It was apartheid at the time and a lot was happening." ;

Llewellyn continued steadily between 1986 and 1999, even in Zimbabwe, but street life eventually took its toll, especially when the work dried up.

At the turn of the century, he fell victim to substance abuse, including the use of Mandrax, a sedative known as a Quaalude outside of South Africa, where a drug popular in the 1970s is still widely eaten.

"I took drugs like Mandrax, drank a alcohol, smoked and things like that, "he admitted. "But I would come to my mind and think, 'I don't want to die like this, this can't be my life, I have to make changes.'"

Llewellyn did just that by moving away from his regular hangouts and trying to get more caddy work, but making ends meet and getting himself off the street still turned out to be a challenge too far.

"Today, many people no longer take caddies when they take the club car or push the trolley," he said.

"Those who take caddies pay them 200 rand (US $ 10) for the four hours and that's maybe once or twice a week, so you have to eat the money for the save all week until you earn more There is no way to pay rent. & # 39;

Long shot

Barnes State next to Gareth Frost, the man who helped change his life

An accidental meeting at the end of last year in a breakfast soup kitchen for the homeless gave him a chance for the golf dream that had often turned out to be a nightmare during its existence Half a century.

In December he took a long shot when he approached Gareth Frost, who runs the soup kitchen, for help with a golf tournament.

"Llewellyn approached me one morning and asked if I was willing to play him onsoren for participating in a professional golf tournament – I thought he was joking, "Frost told BBC Sport Africa.

But Llewellyn, who had finally decided to do something about his lifelong ambition to make it as a golfer, was deadly serious.

"This was far from providing a hot breakfast, but the second time he asked me to consider his request I decided to follow up and see where it would lead, "added Frost.

It was the beginning of a heartwarming journey.

Frost discovered that in order to participate in the Sunshine senior tour, Llewellyn would have to qualify as a professional tournament for golfers over 50 years old.

This cost 4,000 rand (US $ 200), with Frost kindly sponsoring Llewellyn for his unlikely dream.

With a set of second hand mismatched clubs, Llewellyn seized the opportunity in style and finished in the top 15 to earn an invite to a tournament during the tour.

Although he needed more money to compete, his life started to change when Frost – with the invaluable help of the charity Fearless Love Foundation – created a crowdfunding campaign external-link that eventually raised over 140,000 Rand ($ 7,500).

The money enabled Llewellyn to register for the tournament and purchase equipment and essentials.

"I had nothing – no clothes, shoes, blankets, food," he said.

On the fairway

Llewellyn hopes to use his experiences to help others like him in the future

Llewellyn also golf equipment, including a new set of clubs from a golf kit manufacturer, and on March 16 he finally played his first professional tournament – at the Fidelity Pro-Am in Johannesburg.

After making six in the first round, he made the cut for the last day when his total score of 160 meant that finished in the top 45 external-link – no small feat given his inexperience.

"I never gave up on the dream of ever getting into the professional side, let alone getting away a bit in my years," he said.

"My first tournament was a dream come true."

Only the top 25 made money, but Llewellyn was not disappointed in his performance and believed – understandably – that he can only get better.

Still, any chance to prove this was halted by the corona virus, which has hit South Africa hard and also disrupted its plans for future tournaments, given the sport's abrupt termination .

The sport describes the current void in golf as & # 39; painful & # 39; and has in any case changed his life for a golf course in Pretoria that has given him a place of residence – a shipping on-site holder.

He said, "I came here to sell balls and found that the person I was selling to was someone I knew before. I asked if I could come here caddy and he said yes and they gave me a container to stay in. & # 39;

Llewellyn has received equipment and money from both sponsors and the public

Although it was not his original intention, he survives the money left over from the crowdfunding campaign, hoping that the beginning of his golf career, at an age when many are retiring, is far from over.

"Being 59 feels like the end of the world – now you have to retire, sit down and grow old – but I want to play golf and work hard at it," he

The self-taught golfer has the greatest ambition of others n giving those who are financially disadvantaged, like him, the opportunity to practice a sport that is often out of reach.

He said, "If I'm going to make money, I want to set up a golf academy for the homeless so they can take to the streets because I was homeless and I needed a boost in life. "

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