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Saturday, August 2, 2014

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Golfer paying his dues on minor league tour

Tags: Sports
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Ben Silverman

Ben Silverman remembers going to the driving range with his dad, Howard, as a 10-year-old, but it wasn’t until he was 14 that he really got hooked on golf.

During a visit with his grandparents in Vancouver one summer, he decided to try a one-week junior golf clinic.

“The first four days were all about putting, chipping and hitting balls, but then when we got out onto the golf course on the last day, I realized all the different intricacies of the game, how difficult it was and how many different aspects to it there were. That’s what drew me to it,” Silverman said.

Today, the 24-year-old is playing on the Golfslinger.com Tour, formerly the Minor League Golf Tour in Florida, a training ground for PGA hopefuls. At the Abaco April Open, Silverman finished tied for 13th after shooting a 71. He earned $155.84 (all figures US). The winner took home $1,000. At the April Lake Worth Open a week later, Silverman shot a 70 and tied for seventh, earning $201.25.

Most recently, Goflslinger.com reported, Silverman received a $1,000 bonus as the leading money winner over a two-week period in April, with $2,651.25. Most of it, $2,000, came from winning a 36-hole tournament at Fountains Country Club in Lake Worth. The bonus period also included four 18-hole events. He tied for seventh in a Golfslinger.com Tour event at the Evergreen Club.

Silverman knows there are no guarantees on his road to the PGA, but that isn’t stopping him from pursuing his dream.

“It’s just I’ve realized once you get to a really good level how long it takes to slowly climb the ladder and get better and better,” Silverman said. “It takes a lot of time, because the guys at the top are really, really good.

“I feel I’m good enough, and I’m getting better each day. I’m just going to go for it full on and I’m not thinking about what might happen by the time I’m 30. I’m just all for right now.”

When he was a youngster, golf was just another sport Silverman was good at. He played a lot of sports, but when he got back to Toronto from Vancouver, all he wanted to do was be on the course. He quit hockey – a sport he had played competitively – and when he was 16 he joined the Vaughan Secondary School golf team. By the time he was a senior in high school, Silverman, who had been named the school’s athlete of the year, had quit the baseball and basketball teams so he could dedicate more time to golf.

His time on the course paid off. He was accepted to Florida Atlantic University, where he played on the schools’ Division I golf team.

Making the jump to being a pro is another matter. It’s not just his talent or the skills of his competitors that he has to worry about. Beyond playing well in tournaments, Silverman also has to earn enough money to be able to travel and pay tournament entry fees. The entry fee for a one-day tournament at the minor-league level is around $250. A two-day tournament costs $450. If he wants to compete at a higher level in the minor leagues, entry fees can run upward of $1,000. Silverman has to rely on caddying and private lessons as well as tournament winnings and some financial support from his parents to help pay his way.

“Some friends I know are lucky enough to meet an investor who wanted to set up a deal to try and give them money,” he said. “That’s the part of the minor league game – the money issue – that a lot of people don’t know about, which makes it difficult to climb the ladder.

“If you don’t have money, you pretty much just have to wait until the PGA Tour tryouts at the end of the year.”

Silverman tried out for the PGA Tour for the first time last year. He made it through the pre-qualifying stage by finishing 15th in a three-day tournament, but he was eliminated in the first of three stages in the qualifying tournament.

Even though he was unable to take the next step at the PGA Tour tryouts, he isn’t putting a timeline on his career, and he still has high hopes for his future in golf.

“I’m looking forward to trying out for the Canadian Open this summer. I’m coming home to Toronto to qualify for that. I’d also like to try out for the Canadian Tour, and tryouts for that are in California in about a month.

“I’m 24 now, and my goal is to be at least on the Nationwide Tour [which feeds players into the PGA Tour] in the next three years and hopefully on the PGA Tour by the time I’m 29 or 30.”

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