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Junior golf program develops talent
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Greg Silva gets asked the same question every week.

"People always say, 'Who's going to be the next Ryan Thornberry.' I have two or three kids in mind that could be."

Silva has been a PGA teaching professional at River Oaks Golf Course for 12 years. He offers private lessons year-round. He also teaches beginner, intermediate and advanced classes at the River Oaks junior golf program every summer.

"I teach them a lot of common sense," said Silva, who has worked with thousands of children over the years, including Thornberry, 2002 Ceres High graduate.

Thornberry developed into a dominant player with help from Silva and the junior golf program. He claimed the Central California Conference Most Valuable Player award three times in high school and earned first-team, All-America honors while playing for the Stanislaus State men's golf team this past season.

"He taught me all the most important parts of the game," Thornberry said.

Thornberry took lessons from Silva from age nine to 17.

"If I went out there alone, I wouldn't be nearly as good," Thornberry said. "He got me going."

Said Silva: "It was an honor to work with him. He's one of the best to come out of this area in a long time."

Thornberry participated in the junior golf program for nine years. He also provides instruction when he's not busy.

"Whenever I have free time, I'll be glad to do it," Thornberry said.

Silva is teaching classes at the 11th annual River Oaks junior golf program, which is being staged in two four-week sessions: June 15-July 9, and July 20-August 13. The program has served more than 7,000 boys and girls, ages 7 to 17, since its creation in 1994.

A handful of intermediate players, including Ceres' Braden Franksen and Modesto's Nickolas Oar, huddled around Silva at the driving range on Thursday.

"It's a wonderful program," said Candy Oar, Nickolas' mother. "It's not really expensive and the instruction is really good."

Candy signed her son up for the junior golf program after he took an eight-week class with Silva in the Spring.

"Nick is really dedicated to the game of golf and he hits the ball pretty well," Silva said. "He's just seven years old."

Franksen, 11, participated in the program for the first time.

"I'm having a lot of fun," he said.

River Oaks is currently accepting registration for the junior golf program's second session. Signup at the pro shop. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier