MARK SILVERS showed up at 6 a.m. at the Northwood Club in Dallas a week ago Monday with little hope of participating in the sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open.
His status – alternate – required a withdrawal or a no-show, and what golfer misses the opportunity to play in the U.S. national championship?
The fact is, Silvers’ focus centered more on making his flight to Cleveland, site of the next Web.com Tour tournament and the series he hopes to use for a stepping stone to the PGA Tour.
“(Officials) told me about 7:30 that a spot might open about 8,” he said.
He grabbed his clubs from the trunk of his car, went through a quick warm-up – and shot lights out. His 66-65–131 led the field and earned him the chance to compete against the McIlroys, Spieths and Mickelsons this week at Chambers Bay in Washington state.
“I didn’t have a yardage book or anything,” said Silvers, who played for the South Carolina golf team from 2006-09.
But he did have a hot putter – the club that has been his worst enemy this year in his first full season on the Web.com Tour.
“I have been hitting the ball well, but I haven’t gotten a lot out of it (in scoring),” he said. “If you’re not putting well, you do some things you ordinarily wouldn’t do, take some chances you shouldn’t, in order to compensate.
“I got my putter going at the right time. I birdied the first hole and made putts when I needed to. I got going and kept going.”
Silvers was coming off his best Web.com finish of the year, a tie for 14th in the Greater Dallas Open. A second-round 63 sent him zooming up the leader board, but, he said, “I had a pretty ordinary weekend (72-71) and didn’t get a lot out or my game.”
This will be Silvers’ second Open; he qualified for the 2010 Open at Pebble Beach shortly after turning professional, and he said, laughing, “I have something about Opens on the West Coast.”
“This is big for Mark,” said Bill McDonald, Silvers’ coach at USC. “Any time you play in a major championship is an unbelievable opportunity, and this is a chance to take the next step in his career.
“I caddied for him at Pebble Beach, and he’s obviously more seasoned now. That experience (his first Open) gives him an idea of what to expect now.”
Silvers agrees, saying, “I had never had an experience like that. I can build on what I learned at Pebble Beach.”
He will be like many of the players at Chambers Bay; the tournament will be a learning experience on a golf course most have never played. The links-style layout with a myriad of set-up options leaves the golfers with a multitude of question marks.
Silvers, whose won the Golf Channel’s Big Break Greenbrier competition in 2012 and his pro triumph includes the Canadian tour’s Nova Scotia tournament last year, did his initial reconnaissance via television and internet analysis.
“What I’ve discovered is the course will be different from anything most of us have played and that’s what makes it so interesting,” Silvers said..
“I’ve heard the (horror) stories from the 2010 U.S. Amateur (including then 17-year-old Jordan Spieth shooting 83), and I believe a lot will depend on the setup. It’s a national championship and obviously will be challenging.”
Since his playing days at Carolina, Silvers has continued to work with McDonald and has begun taking instruction from Scott Hamilton, whose students include recent PGA tour winners Chris Kirk and Steven Bowditch plus Kyle Thompson, another former USC star who won three weeks ago on the Web.com Tour.
“I saw Billy Mac on my way to the BMW (Web.com tournament in Greenville) and had him take a look at my putting,” Silvers said.
McDonald will be at Chambers Bay to lend his expertise to Silvers and current USC star Matt NeSmith, who also qualified for the Open.
“It’s been a whirlwind – playing better in Dallas, then getting in the Sectionals and playing so well,” Silvers said. “You know, if the Sectionals had not been right there in Dallas, if I had had to travel, since I was an alternate, I wouldn’t have gone.”
But everything fell into place, and McDonald said, “Who knows? This might be the springboard to something special for Mark.”
Site: University Place, Wash. | Schedule: Thursday-Sunday | Course: Chambers Bay (7,200-7,600 yards, par 70)
TV: Fox Sports 1: Thursday-Friday, noon-8 p.m.; Fox: Thursday-Friday, 8-11 p.m.; Saturday, 2-10 p.m.; Sunday, 2-10:30 p.m.
S.C. PLAYERS IN FIELD
The nine players with South Carolina connections in the U.S. Open:
Lucas Glover: Clemson/Greenville
Bill Haas: Greer/Greenville
Russell Henley: Charleston
Dustin Johnson: Irmo/Coastal
Ben Martin: Greenwood/Clemson
Matt NeSmith: North Augusta/USC
Sam Saunders: Clemson
Mark Silvers: USC
Kevin Kisner: Aiken