Former underdog turned Maccabiah gold winner swings home to golf in Canadian Open

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TORONTO — In 2012, Ben Silverman was a 23-year-old from suburban Toronto with a grand golfing dream — and a harsh reality.

The son of two Jewish musician parents, Silverman had decided as a teenager that he was going to become a professional golfer and would one day win on the PGA Tour — the sport’s biggest stage. It seemed unrealistic considering that in his first tournament as a 16-year-old, he shot 118, a sorely inadequate score when facing elite-level teenagers.

And so it was a triumph for Silverman to return to his hometown last week to play in the Canadian Open — the world’s third-oldest golf championship — held from June 8-11 at the Jewish-founded Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto.

Though he failed to get into the final rounds, missing the cutline by a heartbreaking single shot, the fact that Silverman was playing the Canadian Open was a victory in itself.

Following that disappointing first tournament at the age of 16, Silverman persevered and eventually became good enough to play university golf in Florida. Not long after graduating, he dedicated himself to playing low-level professional tournaments while working part-time. With tiny amounts of prize money and big expenses, the lifestyle didn’t seem sustainable — Silverman would either have to move up quickly or move on to other things. As his financial picture worsened, the time came to seriously consider jettisoning golf for a more conventional life and career.

And then everything changed in the summer of 2012, thanks to a phone call from Maccabi Canada. The sports organization inquired if Silverman would represent Canada at the 2013 Maccabiah Games. The contest, known as the Jewish Olympics, would be held in Jerusalem, and Silverman would join a team mostly made up of members of Oakdale Golf and Country Club, Toronto’s predominantly Jewish club that hosted this year’s Canadian Open.

A photo taken during the final round of the Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto, June 11, 2023. (Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

At first, Silverman thought his time playing tournaments in Florida was too valuable to spare a couple of weeks away, so he wanted to say no. But just before doing that, he spoke to his parents about it.

“They convinced me that it would be a great opportunity, that I would never know what kind of connections I might make,” recounted the now-father of two young boys. “And I had never been to Israel before, so I said I would do it, as long as I didn’t have to spend any time doing any tryouts. Since I was the only one playing professionally on the team, they were happy to take that deal.”

In preparation for the Games, the American and British teams had a challenge competition in Florida in the fall of 2012. Short a player, the UK team approached Silverman to join their side. Since it was near his base and only a commitment of a couple of days, he agreed.

Ben Silverman plays in the first round of the Canadian Open in Toronto, June 8, 2023. (Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

While at the event, Silverman played a practice round with Alan Appelbaum, a bond trader who loved golf.

“He saw something in me. He wanted to invest in my career. He put together a small team — they paid for everything, they covered all my expenses. They basically supported me on a handshake deal, no strings attached, for about seven years,” Silverman said.

Living full-time in Florida, where he remains today, Silverman made it from one level of pro golf to the next, eventually reaching PGA Tour status.

“When I finally made enough money in 2019 to pay them back, it was such a good feeling,” he said.

While the psychology graduate was only able to retain his PGA Tour status for a couple of seasons, he has managed to stay afloat on its feeder circuit, the Korn Ferry Tour. This year, he has been playing what he describes as the best golf of his life, winning a tournament in January, and sitting in second place in the season-long points race. With the top 30 advancing to the PGA Tour next season, he is already guaranteed to be back in the big show in 2024, no matter what happens the rest of this year, with a chance still to realize his ultimate ambition of winning a PGA Tour event.

“I honestly feel like I’m just getting started,” he said. “I might be 35, but I feel like 26 or 27. And I just feel like I’m getting into the prime of things, and I’m ready to be out here on the PGA Tour full-time and start winning some tournaments. That’s the goal.”

Ben Silverman plays in the first round of the Canadian Open in Toronto, June 8, 2023. (Bernard Brault/ Golf Canada)

As for those 2013 Maccabi Games, it was an Oakdale member of the team who covered Silverman’s travel expenses to Israel.

Silverman won that event played at the Caesarea Golf Club by 11 shots, a massive margin of victory for a golf tournament.

Having been granted an exemption into this year’s Canadian Open because of his great results recently, it was a special treat to be able to compete as an accomplished professional at Oakdale, the place that indirectly had made his career possible via the Maccabi Games.

While Silverman’s results at the Canadian Open were disappointing — he missed the cutline to advance into weekend play by just a single shot — it was still a wonderful experience for him.

“It’s come full circle for me this week, which is really nice. I grew up 20 minutes from here, so I came up a few days early in the week and hung out at my parents’ house,” said Silverman. “I even met a volunteer who is a member of Oakdale and also happens to be a member of the course in Florida where my original sponsor Alan plays. The guy said Alan says hello to me. That was so cool.”

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