RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian Adilson da Silva will strike the first tee shot as golf returns to the Olympic Games after an absence of more than 100 years on Thursday. Monday's draw for the withdrawal-hit men's event, announced by the International Golf Federation (IGF), grouped da Silva with Canada's Graham DeLaet, whose countryman George Lyon won the last Olympic golf tournament in 1904.
"Making history by hitting the first tee shot for 112 years in Olympic golf will be Adilson da Silva from the host nation Brazil," Peter Dawson, the IGF president said in Rio.
"He will be joined by Graham DeLaet from Canada, we might say the defending nation as George Lyon was the last Olympic golf men's champion in 1904. The third player from the group is Byeong Hun An from Korea and he comes from a family of Olympians, as both his mother and father were medallists in table tennis in the 1988 Games in Seoul."The opening trio will tee off at 7.30am local time (1130 GMT) and will be joined by 57 other golfers in 20 groups of three.
Four rounds over four days will decide the medals with the women's event following next week.
Eight of the top 15 ranked men in the world -- including the top four -- pulled out of the event, with many citing concerns over the Zika virus.
The withdrawals have hurt the sport, especially with world number four Rory McIlroy saying he probably would not even watch the Olympic golf but would only tune in to "the stuff that matters" such as athletics, swimming and diving.
Officials said they hoped to counter the top players' absence by winning over converts. Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world and there are only a handful of public courses in a nation the size of Western Europe.
Rio's new Olympic course was controversially built on environmentally sensitive land. Biologists and helpers will be on hand to ensure that the alligators, capybaras and other wildlife who live in the surrounding lakes will not disrupt play or harm spectators.
Officials said they were delighted with the course and said twice as many species were now found there compared to before.
Only 58 per cent of tickets have been sold and organisers will have driving ranges, putting greens and other attractions for fans they believe may be coming to golf for the first time.
They will also help to explain the game and school the notoriously passionate Brazilian fans in how to behave in an event where silence is crucial.
"What would make these two weeks a success would be exciting Olympic competition, very high quality golf watched by a large amount of fans both on the course but particularly around the world," Dawson said.
"What we are looking for is an exciting golf competition to be watched by many, many millions of people and that some of these are inspired to play the game in the future."
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)