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Stars of Spring: SAVIO NAZARETH
Rick Lipsey
May 13, 2002
School: GuilfordClass: SeniorSport: GolfHometown: Moshi, Tanzania
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May 13, 2002

Stars Of Spring: Savio Nazareth

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School: Guilford
Class: Senior
Sport: Golf
Hometown: Moshi, Tanzania

The kid from the foothills of Kilimanjaro aims to be the first Tanzanian on the PGA Tour

In many ways Savio Nazareth is like other PGA Tour wannabes. A senior at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., and one of the top contenders to win the May 13-16 NCAA Division III golf championship in Lincoln, Neb., he has a southern drawl and an Augusta National screen saver. He loves Mexican food, uses J. Crew hair gel and hooks a Nokia cellphone to his belt. He bombs 300-yard drives, has two Tiger Woods posters on his dorm-room wall and takes gut classes like Administration and Organization of Sport and Exercise.

But Nazareth, 23, is no cookie-cutter prospect. He's 5'3" and 130 pounds, four inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter than any Tour player. Even more unusual, Nazareth, whose parents are of Indian descent, grew up in the east African nation of Tanzania, one of the world's poorest countries. He learned golf at a scruffy nine-hole course at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's tallest peak. "I guess I'm treading an unpaved path," he said recently between bites of a beef enchilada at Amigo's, his favorite Mexican joint in Greensboro. "But I try not to think about my journey because I really miss home."

Nazareth's home is Moshi, a no-stoplight town in northern Tanzania that is the tourist gateway to Kilimanjaro. Like most kids there he played soccer and field hockey as a boy. Unlike most kids in Moshi he also played golf, which the British brought to Tanzania in the 19th century. The country has just one 18-hole course, in the capital of Dar es Salaam, and five nine-holers, one of which is the Moshi Country Club. As a tyke Savio often walked the course during rounds played by his uncle, Benny Mendes, a member of Tanzania's 1980 Olympic field hockey team. "I liked golf, so I pushed it on Savio, and he was a natural," says Mendes.

Tanzania has no golf instructors, so Mendes, an eight handicapper, became Savio's guru, sharing swing pointers gleaned from magazine articles and David Leadbetter videos. Mendes's tutelage produced an all-world short game (Savio's the top-ranked collegian in that category regardless of division) and an unorthodox technique (a wide-open stance and a baseball grip) that works like magic. As a junior he routinely whipped Tanzania's older players, winning more than 100 titles, including the 1995 Tanzanian Open at age 15. Still, no one realized his true potential until his parents, Romeo and Sabina, took him to the U.S. in the summer of '95 to see his older brother Andrew, who owned an embroidery business in Orlando.

Having heard of his brother's growing prowess, Andrew entered Savio in the Pee Wee Golf Tournament at Metro West Country Club in Orlando. A week after arriving in the U.S., Savio finished second in a field of 80 top Orlando-area juniors. "We were shocked," says Andrew. "His performance convinced us that the U.S. was the place for him to be." Soon Andrew had become Savio's legal guardian, and the prodigy was enrolled as an 11th-grader at Dr. Phillips High, a large Orlando public school.

The adjustment was rough for Savio, but his life improved dramatically the following spring, when he made the school's vaunted golf team. Suddenly he was a star athlete with the nickname of Swavio, and as a senior in 1997 he led the Panthers to the Class 6A state title. Following high school, Savio excelled at Brevard Junior College in Cocoa, Fla., earning second-team All-America honors in 1999 and qualifying for the '99 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach.

Nazareth has continued to blossom at Guilford, where he enrolled in the fall of 2000. Last year he broke the Quakers' record for single-season scoring average by more than half a stroke, averaging 72.80, and over the summer he qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links. This season has been even better. He has eight top-six finishes in nine tournaments, has lowered his stroke average to 72.57 and has earned a second consecutive Old Dominion Athletic Conference golfer of the year award.

After next week's NCAAs, Nazareth will spend the summer practicing at Metro West and then return to Guilford to complete his degree in business management. He's undecided whether to enter the PGA Tour Q school in October or wait until 2003. "There's a lot of talent in that tiny frame," says Tour player Carl Paulson, who occasionally practices with Nazareth at Metro West. "It's just a matter of how much he can pull out of there." Nazareth knows he'll have to pull out a mountain's worth of game to complete his remarkable journey from Tanzania to the Tour. "You can't just waltz out on Tour and be the king," says Nazareth. "I'm just going to take it one shot at a time and see where it takes me."