Hersey's Brad Marek earns spot in PGA Championship
Twenty club professionals qualified for next week's PGA Championship at South Carolina's Kiawah course at a 312-player elimination last month in Florida. None of the qualifiers were members of the Illinois PGA session, but one has deep area roots.
Brad Marek came out of Hersey High School in Arlington Heights where he won a sectional title as a senior in 2002. He also won the Junior State Amateur and was the state's Junior Player of the Year that year, and won the 2005 Illinois State Amateur.
"A junior amateur legend, both in summer events and high school matches," said longtime Hersey coach Dan Caporusso, who is headed to Kiawah to watch Marek play in his first major championship. He earned his spot against the world's best players by finishing in a tie for eighth at the PGA Professionals Championship, posting a 3-under par 287 over 72 holes on the Wanamaker and Ryder courses at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
A three-time Academic All-American at Indiana, Marek turned pro in 2008 and was strictly a tournament player through 2017. He won 15 times on various mini-tours and had a couple near-misses in U.S. Open qualifiers but never earned a place in a PGA Tour event. He did, however, come through in his first try at a PGA Championship berth.
Marek became a member of the PGA of America in 2019 and was eligible for its Professionals Championship for the first time in 2020, but the event was canceled due to pandemic concerns.
"It's funny," Marek said. "I've been playing my best golf since I stopped playing full time."
He's won five times since then, though his main job is running a junior golf academy designed for students who want to play college golf.
"There's quite a bit less pressure than when playing full-time was my only source of income," said Marek. "I've been practicing smarter because I don't have as much time to work on my own game, and I'm enjoying the challenge of it."
Marek settled in Berkeley, Calif., in 2015 and teaches at Corica Park in Alameda. He returned to Chicago last week for a full-day session with Garrett Chaussard, the director of instruction at Skokie Country Club in Glencoe, and he arrived at Kiawah for the first time on Tuesday -- a full week before the tournament tees off May 21.
He's lined up Clare Langford, a top amateur who lives in Oregon, to be his caddie again. They teamed up at Florida in April and they'll have a longer lead-in time before the second major championship of 2021.
"I've heard Kiawah is a special place, and I heard from others who said they got worn out before the event when they played in their first major championship," said Marek. "I'll work longer the week before the tournament."
Caporusso and five friends from Chicago will be on hand to cheer Marek on at Kiawah, and he plans to file reports on Instagram to keep others informed of his progress.
Cantigny survivors: Two-time Illinois State Amateur champion Tee-K Kelly of Wheaton, and Roselle's Dan Stringfellow, a former Illinois prep champion who played collegiately at Auburn, shared honors with 4-under-par 68s at Monday's U.S. Open qualifier at Cantigny in Wheaton.
Michael Schachner, an assistant coach at DePaul, was a shot behind the co-leaders, and reigning Illinois Open champion Bryce Emory of Aurora and Tyler Isenhart of Geneva carded 71s. They were the only players under par in the second Chicago local. They'll bid to play in the Open at Torrey Pines in California, in sectional play next month.
Last of the three state qualifiers is Monday at Illini Country Club in Springfield.
Here and there: Illinois' Adrien Dumont de Chassart and Northwestern's Irene Kim have been selected to play in the Arnold Palmer Cup matches June 11 to 13 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove. ... The Korn Ferry Tour's Evans Scholars Invitational, May 27 to 30 at The Glen Club in Glenview, will have its first presenting sponsor -- First Midwest Bank -- at the $600,000 event. ... B.J. Paul has been named director of player development at Bolingbrook. ... Nike golf camps begin June 7 at Mistwood in Romeoville. ... The Illinois, Notre Dame and Northwestern men's teams were assigned to next week's regional in Oklahoma with the top five teams and top individual going to the NCAA finals the following week at Grayhawk in Arizona. ... Grand opening of the Youth Golf Development Center is scheduled May 24 at Sunset Valley in Highland Park. ... The Illinois PGA Foundation has a series of clinics for military veterans at Pine Meadow in Mundelein and Veterans Memorial in North Chicago.
Illinois Golf Hall of Famer Len Ziehm is on the "Golfers on Golf Radio 820" show at 4 p.m. Saturdays. He co-hosts the "Ziehm & Spears Golf Podcast Series" on social media. Past columns are at lenziehmongolf.com.