Fred Silver's legacy will be hard to match

Bill McGrath

When it comes to amateur golf in Western New York, Fred Silver did it all.

Not only was he among the best players in the history of the game around here, I would put him in a class with two-time Porter Cup champions John Konsek and Ward Wettlaufer, the cream of the crop in WNY back in the 50s and 60s.

His death Tuesday at home will leave a hole in the hearts of those who knew him, played with him and respected him.

Fred never won the Porter Cup, a tournament he was associated with for 50 years, first as a player and later as a Senior Porter Cup player and director. But that never defined the man.

Five weeks ago, he staged the 31st senior tournament at Niagara Falls Country Club, winning the Legends Division, the final piece of what he and I jokingly referred to as his trifecta. He had previously won the Senior and Super Senior divisions.

It was evident he was proud of the accomplishment in a humble sort of way, calling it "really cool." After the first round, he answered his colleagues' inquiries of how he had played with "I shot my age, 74." He added a pair of 73s to win the division by a stroke.

But in the bigger picture, even more significant was undertaking the monumental task of reviving the senior tournament in 1992 and making it one of the best nationally. It had been dormant for 12 years, the remnants of what was called the Harvey Cup that began in 1978, named for the late Porter Cup founder Dick Harvey.

For a long time, Silver squeezed 24 players into the men's tournament, the seniors essentially an after-thought with the college players and mid-ams on center stage.

Fred said he could put together a field with four times as many seniors and in 2008 the current stand-alone event made its debut with 54 holes scheduled shortly after Labor Day.

The Porter Cup brand had a lot of clout in attracting the best seniors every year. It's common for them to come from California, Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Canada and points east and south. Many of the same players come back each year, citing the way the tournament is run, the late summer weather and the NFCC hospitality.

Without Silver taking the initiative, the tournament wouldn't exist.

As a player, Fred developed a passion for the game as a teenager at Idylewylde Golf Club in Sudbury, Ontario. His dad was a club champion there and Fred said the pro taught him and his three brothers how to play the game properly.

He played in 25 Porter Cup tournaments, the first 1970, and a year later he won the first of his 29 men's championships at NFCC. He finished in the Porter Cup top 10 four times and came close to winning it one year.

That was 1983 when he and fellow club member and rival Mike Slipko played in the final threesome with Oklahoma State All-American Scott Verplank.

There was no way to tell how large the gallery was that Saturday, July 30, but one tournament official thought it had to be close to 2,000. Fans from all over the area came to see if another local could join Konsek and Wettlaufer as champion. And they were loud. 

Silver trailed by three strokes after three rounds and stayed in contention until a final-round bogey at the par-4 14th extinguished his chances. He finished tied for third and years later said, "For me it was a win, going head-to-head in the final round and all those people there going absolutely nuts. It was my biggest thrill for a non-win."

Always a gentleman, he never let his domination of the club championship go to his head. He welcomed newcomers and was willing to help other players improve their game, whether it was a swing tip, course management or just the benefit of his experience.

With all his success, which includes five Buffalo District titles, he was named to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

Yes, when it comes to amateur golf around here, Fred Silver did it all and did it with class.

Bill McGrath is a former Niagara Gazette sports editor. Contact him at scoreboard@gnnewspaper.com

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