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Junior golfers line up
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The River Oaks Junior Golf program has served more than 4,000 boys and girls since its inception in 1993. Enrollment has plummeted the past few years.

"I'm not worried at all," said Rob Phipps, a River Oaks golf professional. "It's still one of the best programs out there."

Phipps and volunteer instructor Adam Marable attributed the decline in interest to a number of things.

"The First-Tee Program in Modesto took a lot away," Marable said. "Non-traditional schooling has also had an impact on enrollment."

"The Tiger Woods syndrome is over," Phipps said. "Now that he isn't winning as much, the kids aren't excited about golf."

This year, 150 youth, aged seven to 17, signed up for the first session, which started on June 14 and runs through July 2. Beginner, intermediate and advanced players meet with their respective instructors on Tuesday and Thursdays or Wednesday and Fridays. Class size is limited to 10.

The junior program has 16 volunteers, including River Oaks professional golf instructor Greg Silva, Modesto Junior College boys golf coach Gary Ard and Cal State senior golfer Ryan Thornberry.

Thornberry, a three-time All-American selection for the Warriors, starred on the Ceres High boys golf team for four years. He participated in the junior program for nine years. Thornberry also took lessons from Silva from age nine to 17.

"Ninety-percent of the instructors we had last year we have back this year," Phipps said.

Marable, 22, had four students in his intermediate class on June 15, including Hughson's Samuel Herring and Hayden Genzoli. They spent and hour at the driving range.

"This is the class where you form a golf swing and get rid of bad habits," said Marable, a former Modesto Junior College and Hughson High golfer.

Herring and Genzoli, both 10, are close friends. Genzoli participated last year. Herring didn't.

"I asked my parents to sign me up because I like the sport of golf," Herring said.

Marable said he will continue to support the junior golf program.

"I started playing here when I was six," Marable said. "I'm giving back."

The River Oaks Junior Golf Program is staged in two four-week sessions. The second session begins on July 19 and ends on Aug. 11. - By DALE BUTLER / Staff reporter of the Ceres (Calif.) Courier