It is the Friday before tournament week and Ben Silverman is back at home in his Juno Beach, FL, condo enjoying some family time after sharpening his game. While many PGA Tour players prepare to land in the ritzy private airport of Scottsdale, AZ, for the WM Phoenix Open, Ben he will depart in seat 9C, pumped he got on the aisle and satisfied with a fare of $499 for an open-ended round-trip ticket. Ben represents BallenIsles Country Club where he works on his dream, but more importantly, represents himself and his family in making his way to the PGA Tour. It is hard work getting there. On Saturday he will fly across the land to play 18 holes in a Monday qualifier, there is a lot riding on that one round. Saying goodbye to his two little ones on Saturday he said, “See you in a couple of days, or in a week. Honey, I’ll be home down $5k or I could be up a ‘mil.” So goes the one round game. After landing late Saturday, Ben settled into his limited-service hotel, got some dinner alone, adjusted to the 2-hour time difference, and prepped for his Sunday practice round.
When you see Ben walk the fairways, he’s a pro. He’s young, fit, and dresses the part. You’ll see a really nice golf bag and clubs, a cool hat, and a few logos. He has the walk, but is as down to earth as anyone you will meet. Because, unlike others you see walking the fairway, he doesn’t get paid for any of it. He’s just happy to be provided the equipment, shoes and clothes, at no charge. But he knows, with a few good tournament finishes, the demand for his use of their products will change. Those who know the game have heard of the legendary Monday Qualifiers during tournament week. Two years ago, an unknown Corey Conners Monday Qualified his way into a victory in Texas. For Ben, this Monday round is the same gamble – Corey could have left down $5k, but that week, Corey came home up a ‘mil and, boy, did his life change. That’s what Ben is chasing here.
By the way, Ben isn’t a struggling professional. He is really good. Just two weeks ago winning a local professional “warm-up” event with an 8-under 64 on a difficult south Florida test. Ben also knows what it tastes like. After a successful run on the Korn Ferry Tour he competed on the biggest stage, making it to the promised land of the PGA Tour, and it was awesome. The big events, big crowds, even the little signs on the range with his name on them. He has also Monday qualified, when earlier this year he went out to Westwood Golf Club in TX and shot a bogey free round of 65 to earn his ticket into the Shell Houston Open. He shot an opening round of 67 but followed with a 77 to miss the cut. Ben knows what it takes, and he also knows the margin between getting a free bag and being paid to carry that bag, is intense.
At the qualifier on Monday morning, he dropped his bag of balls to warm up next to the other 87 players on one of the local public courses of Scottsdale. 87 players with hopes and dreams will play one round, 18 holes, for 3 spots into the WM Phoenix Open that week. No fans, no caddie, just Ben carrying his own bag, alone with his game. It was a windy but sunny Arizona day, and Ben shot 2-under on the front nine, just 2 shots out of the top 3, but well within reach. Scoring then got lower on the back-nine with six players posting rounds of 5-under total, with Ben still out on the course. He himself then reached 5-under with a birdie on the par-4 16th. And on the 18th tee, he looked at the leaderboard to learn he had come to the closing hole needing a birdie to take the outright lead. And he did it, just like he knows he can. Ben fired a bogey-free 6-under 66, to win the event and punch his ticket into the PGA Tour for the week. Six other players had a playoff for the final two qualifying spots, while Ben set off to find a hotel, extend his rental car, and make arrangements for his caddie – with his first stop being to register in person at the TPC Scottsdale for The Greatest Show on Grass. Boom. First step accomplished. Honey, I won’t be home tomorrow, got other plans this week.
Practice rounds start today and the WMPO kicks off on Thursday. Play hard, Ben. Soak it all in and enjoy the ride. We’ll all be cheering for you.
UPDATE: Ben missed the cut by 1 stroke after a late surge by the remaining golfers on Friday moved the cut to -2. Great job Ben!