PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. - Alexandre Rocha climbed over a lot of bodies to get into the Honda Classic, and then on Thursday he climbed to a spot near the top of the leader board. Rocha, who has played only three previous PGA Tour events - and none since the 2003 Southern Farm Bureau - negotiated PGA National in 66 strokes on a blustery opening round, but that was nowhere near as impressive as the path he took to get here.
Not only did Rocha have to Monday qualify to get into the tournament, he had to qualify twice. In the pre-qualifier, he needed to finish in the top 14 of the 111-person field to advance, which he managed to do. Then on Monday, again facing 110 other challengers, he needed to finish in the top four and succeeded again. And success had not really been part of his professional golf resume.
"I've been a full member, full status for three years on the European Tour - 2006, 2007 and 2009, " Rocha said. "I played on the Challenge Tour in 2008. This year I am in Asia, actually, after losing my card on the European Tour last year. I got my Asian Tour card in early January and there's a break in the schedule now."
Rocha's road has been a winding one, indeed. He grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and played golf at Mississippi State University, where he was an All-American in 2000. In addition to the aforementioned tours, he has also competed professionally in Canada and South America. He is a reminder of a favorite joke foreign players on the LPGA like to tell.
"What do you call a person speaks three languages? Trilingual."
"What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual."
"What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American."
So what do you call someone who speaks five languages? Alexandra Rocha.
"My mother speaks six fluently," he says. "Both my grandparents, their parents, they spoke six fluently, as well. I've done English, Spanish, Italian, a bit of French, Portuguese.
And how does Starkville, Misss. - the home of Mississippi State - compare in his world travels? "I mean, honesty," he said laughing. "The whole city of Starkvllle is my street in Sao Paulo [a citty of 22 million]. My coach asked me how I was going to get to practice and I said I would take a cab. He laughed for 20 minutes. He said the nearest cab from Starkville is in Atlanta, which is 3400 miles away."
There are cabs in Palm Beach Gardens, and Rocha just might need one for three more days. It looks like he won't be hitting the road early this week.
-- John Strege