Mark Silvers ruins victory party for James Lepp in Big Break final
But Abbotsford golfer says reality show restored his love for the game, and competing
James Lepp (right) smiles as his girlfriend Francis Fisher and friends gathered at the Cactus CLub in Abbotsford applaud his superb second-place finish on Tuesday night's final episode of the Golf Channel's Big Break Greenbrier.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG
James Lepp had a blast competing in the Big Break, even though it ended in heartbreaking fashion Tuesday night. Still, he credits the Golf Channel series with helping make golf fun again.
So much fun that the talented Abbotsford native is talking about taking another serious stab at professional golf.
After losing the 18-hole match play final on the 18th green to Mark Silvers of Savanahh, Ga., Lepp sounded like he’s ready to move golf off the back burner.
Lepp plans to play some on the PGA Tour Canada circuit (formerly the Canadian Tour) when its schedule begins late next spring. And he’s hoping the exposure he got and the considerable golf skills he displayed on the Big Break Greenbrier series might help earn him some exemptions into a couple of bigger events.
If anyone had forgotten that Lepp, the 2005 NCAA champion, has some serious golf talent, the 29-year-old’s Big Break appearance certainly served as a reminder.
Lepp delighted viewers with his patented saucer-pass chip shot and he and Silvers played some terrific golf in their final showdown, which was taped six months ago at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.
“I’m going to see what I can do,” Lepp said in an interview Tuesday night from a packed Cactus Club in Abbotsford. “There has been quite a solid reaction with the show and myself and maybe I can leverage that to get into some bigger tournaments.”
As the Big Break winner, Silvers earned an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic next summer and Lepp said he’ll be writing tournament organizers seeking a sponsor’s exemption.
“That (exemption) probably would have been the coolest prize,” Lepp said. “I was really happy with my game at the Big Break, I played well and played well in the final match and I hope I get in the tournament because if I play like this I feel like I could contend actually.”
Golf has taken a back seat the last three years to Lepp’s shoe company, Kikkor Golf, which got lots of publicity during the 11 Big Break episodes.
Lepp clearly made a good impression with viewers, who voted him their fan favourite. Lepp announced during the reunion show that followed Tuesday night’s episode that he was splitting the $5,000 prize with his 11 fellow competitors.
Lepp said he felt he got the award largely on the fact he had the largest Twitter following of the 12 players. And he’d already won $10,000 for winning two challenges on the show.
“I already had some followers on Twitter so it was like I had a head start,” Lepp said. “It just didn’t feel like a legit win, I didn’t feel like I really earned it. I was privileged enough to win it and my sole reason for wanting to win it is that it was always the plan to divvy it up. I just felt that was the best thing to do. I know a lot of those guys could use the $400 ($416 actually) so that’s why I did it.”
The final match with Silvers featured some great golf by both players. Lepp looked to be in control after three straight birdies gave him a 2-up lead through seven holes. He went 3-up with a birdie on the 13th hole where he was stung in the back of the neck by a bee. But Silvers birdied the final three holes to win an $80,000 prize package that included $50,000 cash.
Lepp insisted he was not devastated by the loss, which he has had to keep secret the last six months.
“I was honestly not even disappointed because I knew I had played well and represented myself well and represented the other players well — and Mark had just beat me by one,” Lepp said. “And I didn’t give it to him. I think it would have been different if I had choked and given it to him. I would have been pretty upset and depressed. But as I shook his hand I wasn’t even mad. Mark’s a great guy and he played well and it’s always easier losing to a great guy.”
Lepp has been gathering with family and friends at the Abbotsford Cactus Club to watch each week’s episode and Tuesday night’s overflow crowd was the biggest yet.
“It was a crazy atmosphere,” Lepp said. “Obviously, I knew what was going to happen so with every loud cheer I felt a little bit bad. Especially when I was 3-up there, everyone was really excited and then Mark went on a tear and ended up beating me.
“As it ended and everyone realized Mark won, there was kind of like a big exhale and then three or four seconds later everyone started erupting and cheering and clapping. It was a pretty cool ending to a bittersweet finish.”
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