By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Longtime golf instructor loves job
Placeholder Image
Greg Silva enjoys his job.

Silva, 57, has been providing golf lessons to children and adults for almost 40 years. He's been a PGA teaching professional at River Oaks Golf Course the past 12 years.

"I'll keep teaching as long as I'm healthy," he said.

Silva decided to make golfing a career after his mother, Winona, signed him up for a tournament while visiting family in Utah in July of 1964.

"I was introduced to the game at nine," Silva said. "I didn't really get serious about the game until I won that tournament."

Silva placed first in a field of 125 at a Pro-Amateur Tournament at Red Hills Country Club in St. George, Utah. He shot a course-record, 10-under-par 62.

"I played as an amateur and I beat everybody," Silva said. "I set my first course record, got a hole in one and won a car in one day."

Silva had to turn pro after he accepted a prize, a brand-new, baby-blue 1964 Cadillac convertible, for making a hole in one on the third hole at the tournament.

"I took the car, came back to Modesto and went to work for my dad that summer," Silva said.

He traded the Cadillac in for a 1959 two-door, Chevy Impala at a used car dealership in Modesto.

"I traded it straight across," Silva said.

"Back in the 60s, it wasn't really cool to be driving a baby-blue Cadillac."

Silva was just 17 when he joined the professional ranks. He just completed his junior year at Downey High School.

"I was the youngest person in California to turn pro," Silva said.

"It's probably a damn good thing that happened to me. I don't really know what I would have done."

Silva graduated from Downey in 1965.

He was a member of the school's golf team during his freshman and sophomore years. But wasn't allowed to play as a junior and senior because he refused to cut his hair after his coached asked him to.

"I played no sports because of that," he said.

Silva went to Modesto Junior College for a year following graduation. Then he dropped out.

"I wasn't very motivated back then," he said. "I wanted to do other things.

"I didn't really want to follow in my father's footsteps. It just happened."

His father, Andy, was a golf pro in Modesto for 51 years.

Two of Greg's uncles, Bob and Leroy Silva, played on the PGA tour.

Greg played in a host of PGA events in Northern and Southern California off and on for 20 years (1966-1985).

"I played just about every day," he said.

Silva won a dozen Pro-Am events.

He took first at Phoenix Lake, Spring Creek, Sea Ranch, Peach Tree and Del Rio golf clubs.

He set a handful of records at local courses.

"I did some things that a lot of people have never done," Silva said.

In June of 1967, he set a course record at Tracy Golf & Country Club. Silva had five eagles and 13 pars en route to firing a 10-under 62.

"I was the first male golfer to have five eagles in 18 holes of golf," he said.

Silva set the front and back nine course records at Dryden in 1972 and 1973, respectively. He broke both of his own records a short time later.

Silva set the back nine course record for the second time at Dryden in 1974.

He had four eagles in seven holes. No other player has accomplished that feat.

"I bogeyed 10 and 11 and still shot 27 on the back nine," Silva said. "That's still the course record today."

In 1975, he fired an 8-under 28 on the front nine at Dryden, which shattered his previous record by one stroke.

Silva also won a handful of long-drive championships.

In 1966, Jack Rubio lost a briefcase full of cash to Silva and Jake Kananshu, a local golfer and member at Dryden and Muni.

"That's what he did for a living," Silva said. "He went around golf clubs in the United States and challenged people for money."

Rubio showed up unannounced.

"I was there working and he came in and said, 'I'm looking for Greg Silva.' I didn't know who he was, so I just said, 'He's not here. What's this concerning?'"

Rubio replied: "I thought maybe he would like to lose some money."

Silva didn't have any money so Kananshu offered to back him.

He went to the bank and came back with cash.

"I was only 19 years old," Silva said.

Silva won the coin toss and elected to go second. Around 30 spectators gathered around the two players at the first tee at Dryden.

Rubio's first shot landed on the front of the green.

Silva's first shot passed over Rubio's ball on the fly and rolled over the back of the green. The ball traveled more than 315 yards.

"We started hitting balls for $500 for a ball," Silva said. "That lasted for probably a half hour. Then we got serious and upped the ante to $1,000 a ball. Then I killed him.

"When we were done, I got all of his money that was in the briefcase. I beat him out of $17,000. Jake made a lot of money and I made $500."

Silva worked as an assistant pro at Dryden and Muni for more than 20 years. He left for Ceres after his father passed away and he wasn't promoted to head pro.

"I took a year off," Silva said. "Then I decided what I wanted to do and showed up at the Phipps' family place."

Silva started offering private lessons year-round at River Oaks Golf Course in Ceres, which is owned by Jim and Carol Phipps and operated by their son, Rob, in 1991.

He created the junior match play competition, which is in its eighth year of existence and is offered four times a year instead of just once. He has also taught beginner, intermediate and advanced classes at the River Oaks junior golf program every summer since its creation in 1994.

"I had the concept of starting the junior golf program," said River Oaks golf professional Rob Phipps. "He helped implement it and keeps it going. He also does a lot with the high school golf teams, not just Ceres. He helps Hughson and Patterson. He doesn't charge the schools for those services. That's special. You don't see much of that because usually instructors want (to get paid). Greg's willing to forfeit that."

Silva has a busy work schedule.

"I work somewhere around 80 hours a week," he said. "I try to work 45 hours a week at the golf course and the other 35 at my office."

Said Phipps: "He's a different kind of teacher as far as how he gets things across. He's a more hands on instructor. He demonstrates how to do it. He'll take somebody and use their swing to make them hit the ball. That's what makes him a good instructor."

Silva doesn't plan on retiring any time soon.

"They say 90 percent of America's population don't like their job," he said. "I love mine.

"It's fun watching all of these young kids mature into adults and good players."

Silva will celebrate 40 years of teaching golf at the end of this month.

"I think Greg will be here for a long time just because of his character and outgoing personality," Phipps said. "He's there for the students. He's just not sitting there for a paycheck." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier