Big Break Greenbrier champion draws inspiration from late father
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Silvers, Big Break Greenbrier champion, could hear his father's voice if a golf club wasn't in his hand.
That added to swirling emotions when the reality show's winner was Silvers, a native of Savannah, Ga., whose father died April 23, only three weeks before the younger Silvers was selected to participate in the competition at the Greenbrier Resort and Sporting Club last summer.
His win, including a sense of relief that marked the end of a stressful summer, doesn't make the first Christmas without his father any easier.
"He knows that playing golf is what I want to do and what makes me happy," Silvers said via phone from his hometown of Savannah, Ga. "I know he would want nothing more than for me to get out on a golf course as fast as I could. (Even after winning) he would want me to practice the next day."
Silvers spent much of June in White Sulphur Springs, playing in various - and many unconventional - competitions with 11 aspiring PGA Tour players to win the 18th edition of the Golf Channel's reality series.
Chefs prepared the meals, the players stayed at houses on the property and played golf on Greenbrier Resort courses Old White TPC (site of the Greenbrier Classic), Meadows and Greenbrier - and on The Sporting Club's Snead Course.
The experience concluded with Silvers winning an exemption into the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, $50,000 in cash, an Adams Golf endorsement - which includes $10,000 in cash; a $10,000 shopping spree from Dick's Sporting Goods and $10,000 car rental credit from Avis Rent-a-Car.
In front of a camera, he was congratulated by Big Break co-hosts Tom Abbott and Stephanie Sparks, as well as Greenbrier Owner Jim Justice.
However, nobody but the handful of people at the Greenbrier knew who won before last Tuesday's final episode of the season, a secret that had to be kept for six months per competitors' contracts.
Using his best poker face, he offered "cheesy" replies to incessant questions.
"I had to tell people things like, 'We're all winners.' Cheesy things like that," said Silvers, who risked losing his winnings if he revealed the results. "The cheesier the better, usually."
Last Tuesday, he sat with 200-300 family, friends and observers at B&D Burgers in Savannah during a viewing party.
His dad Mark Mitchell Silvers Jr. - a longtime tax attorney in Savannah - could have helped with advice on how to handle requests for the highly sensitive information.
Silvers Jr. was a golfer, a motorcycle enthusiast and one of the "smartest people I've ever met," said his son.
That didn't always make for the best relationship. The younger Silvers had no interest in law, instead majoring in finance at the University of South Carolina.
He also never took up riding motorcycles because he's a "big fan of four wheels," after seeing his father get in "too many accidents."
Silvers spent four years playing golf for the Gamecocks on only a partial golf scholarship.
He improved each season before playing in every event for South Carolina as a senior when he earned honorable mention All-America.
"Luckily for me I wasn't the best junior golfer and I wasn't the best college golfer," he said. "I was one of those guys mainly on the college golf team because they didn't have to give me much of a scholarship because of academics."
Silvers turned professional after college, won events on the NGA and Peach Belt tours and competed at PGA Tour qualifying school from 2009-12.
However, something always stood in the way of his receiving a PGA Tour card. He "wasn't ready" for qualifying school in 2009, and got a stomach virus the first day of the 2010 competition.
"It's hard to play four straight days when you can't eat," he said.
Also in 2010, he qualified for the U.S. Open, was 2-under par after two holes, but missed the cut with 82s the first two rounds.
"(Qualifying for the Open) was completely unexpected," he said.
"I was trying to play professionally but with no money, I hadn't played that many events."
At Q school in 2011, he put "too much pressure" on himself, started pressing and it got "worse and worse every day."
Finally, last month he finished 95th in the final stage of qualifying school at PGA West's TPC Stadium and Nicklaus Tournament courses in LaQuinta, Calif., to earn conditional status on the Web.com Tour.
Still, his career - even at 25 years old - wasn't moving as quickly as he, or his father, would have liked.
"Dad wanted me to succeed almost to a fault," Silvers said. "At some points and time it caused some consternation, since he was such a smart guy and such a perfectionist. I had my ideas about how I wanted to do stuff, and he had his ideas about how he wanted me to do stuff and they didn't always go together.
"Obviously, dad and I patched up everything before he passed.
"I went through about a month where I didn't have a whole lot of interest in playing golf. I knew he'd be yelling at me if I wasn't."
His love for the game has returned 10-fold, he doesn't worry about failing and when he needed a birdie on No. 18 at Old White TPC to win Big Break Greenbrier, Silvers hit his tee shot 5-feet from the hole.
Silvers leans on family for support, including his mother Alice Carlyle - who separated from his father 20 years ago; his sister Lisa Silvers Kaminsky and brother-in-law Danny - "they live and die by every shot I have," and his father's longtime companion, Bonnie Smith, who he loves to see and is "such a nice lady."
Silvers' experience during June in Greenbrier County will stay with him. He'll return July 4-7 for the fourth Greenbrier Classic, which will include a reunion with the Old White TPC and, perhaps, one of his favorite golfers - Greenbrier Pro Emeritus Tom Watson.
"I'm a huge Tom Watson fan and I'm not just saying that," Silvers said. "In one of the coolest moments of my life, it was my first day at the Open (2010).
"I walked out to hit some balls, with my head down ... I was terrified ... I started hitting wedges and I looked up and didn't realize I was hitting next to him (Tom Watson).
"When he got done warming up, walking past me I just said, 'Good luck, Mr. Watson.' He acknowledged me and said 'Thank you, young man.' It was really cool.
"He embodies everything that you would want in a professional golfer."
Silvers will get a chance to become the third player to make a Greenbrier Classic title his first PGA Tour win after Scott Stallings in 2011 and Ted Potter Jr. last July.
His gradual progression toward earning exempt status on the PGA Tour doesn't come without pitfalls, but winning Big Break Greenbrier signifies an upswing in his quest.
All the while, Silvers knows it might not have happened without a little help from above.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at email@example.com or 304-348-4837.