The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 20, 2012

Greenbrier gives 25-year-old golfer Silvers his Big Break

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— Mark Silvers has played in a U.S. Open — qualifying for the 2010 event at Pebble Beach, where he missed the cut after a pair of 82s the first two rounds — he played collegiate golf at the University of South Carolina, and just last month he finished 95th at the PGA TOUR Qualifying School, earning conditional status for the Tour (formerly the Nationwide Tour) for 2013.

But none of the 25-year-old Savannah, Ga., native’s previous experiences on the golf course prepared him for the 15 days he spent at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs in June.

Silvers was part of The Golf Channel’s Big Break Greenbrier reality series, taped at the resort just prior to the 2012 Greenbrier Classic. The 18th season of The Golf Channel’s successful reality show, The Big Break, was filmed over the course of a 15-day stretch on four golf courses — The Old White TPC (the home of The Greenbrier Classic), The Greenbrier Course (site of the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup), The Meadows Course and The Snead Course. Golfers competed in skills challenges and head-to-head events. During the taping, the contestants were housed in two homes at The Greenbrier Sporting Club.

Twelve golfers participated in the show, which premiered on The Golf Channel on Oct. 2. A new episode aired each week, with a golfer eliminated on each episode.

Silvers beat out runner-up James Lepp and 10 other golfers to win the challenge, earning a spot in the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, $50,000 in cash, an endorsement deal with Adams Golf, a $10,000 shopping spree from Dick’s Sporting Goods and a $10,000 car rental credit from Avis Car Rental.

But the former Gamecock golfer really wasn’t allowed to celebrate. Under the rules of the show, he had to keep his victory secret, up until the finale was aired on The Golf Channel on Tuesday.

“It was absolutely brutal,” said Silvers of trying to keep his win quiet. “That was everybody’s first question. I just had to get creative with how I responded and put on the best poker face I could.”

He also had to adjust to the reality of no longer living at The Greenbrier.

“Unfortunately, it was back to reality — no more huge houses on the side of a mountain with chefs for breakfast and dinner,” said Silvers, who competed mostly on the NGA Tour last summer. “It was back to crappy hotels and mini-tour golf.”

But now that his thrilling comeback — Silvers was down three holes through 13 in the match play finale against Lepp, before storming back to clinch a win with an eagle on the par-5 17th on The Old White TPC Course and a six-foot birdie on the par-3 18th — has been seen by the world, Silvers is more than happy to relive the experience.

“It has definitely sunk in quite a bit,” he said. “When you’re there filming it, you kind of get lost in doing what you know how to do — hit golf shots. Then, the longer you sit on it and see how excited everybody gets about the show, it gets bigger and bigger.”

Silvers said he’s aware that winning the show’s top prize could forever change his life — not to mention his career in golf — but he said it’s an experience he would have enjoyed, even if he had been the first player eliminated.

“The Greenbrier is the most amazing place I’ve ever been,” he said, admitting he had never been to the resort prior to the show’s taping. “We had a great group of guys, and we all enjoyed being around each other. To be around a bunch of guys that you enjoy being with at a wonderful place at The Greenbrier is an unbelievable experience, before you even get to talking about winning. I think every guy on the show would say the same thing.”

Reliving the experience through the eyes of a video camera was also an experience. Silvers said he watched every episode of The Big Break Greenbrier, and the butterflies often took control.

“Even though I knew the results of every episode, I was still nervous,” he said. “There’s so much build, and you don’t know what parts of it you’re going to see or what the other guys were saying in their interviews. So I was just as nervous to see it as anybody who didn’t know the results.

“You always get a little worried about how you’re going to be portrayed, but I was happy with it.”

For the finale, Silvers attended a viewing party in downtown Savannah, and he said 200-300 people turned out to watch.

“It sounded like we were watching the Ryder Cup,” he said. “People were going wild for the good shots, and there were collective sighs for the bad shots. It was pretty surreal.”

So has been Silvers’ sudden fame.

“It’s a tad overwhelming, but in the best possible way,” he said. “Even out at Q-School, the players and spectators were telling me they were enjoying the show. I’ve been recognized on Facebook and Twitter. It’s unbelievable but a lot of fun.”

Silvers said his goal now is to make the most of his time on the Tour and try to finish in the Top 25 to earn his PGA TOUR card.

He’ll have to take a break from that schedule, though, to come back to The Greenbrier in July to compete with many of golf’s biggest stars at The Greenbrier Classic.

“I love the golf course,” he said of The Old White TPC. “The first day I was there, I got to play a practice round. It was a great course for me — a good fit for my game. I’m very excited about teeing it up there in July.”

And he hopes his knowledge of the historic course will serve as an advantage.

“It always helps to have good memories on a golf course,” he said. “I’m going to go into it with a lot of experiences I can draw on, and they’re good. That’s all you can ask for, especially at that high of a level.”

— E-mail: chuffman

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