Ex-Illinois Amateur winner qualifies for his first 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 of the 20 has deep Chicago 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 Illinois Junior State Amateur and was the state’s Junior Player of the Year that year and captured the Illinois State Amateur at Crestwicke, in Bloomington, in 2005.

“A junior amateur legend, both in summer events and high school matches,’’ said long-time 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, FL.

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,’’ said Marek.  “I’ve been playing my best golf since I stopped playing full time.’’

He’s won five times since then, even 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 there was 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 on 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 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 other friends from Chicago will be on hand to cheer Marek on at Kiawah, and he plans to file regular reports on Instagram to keep others informed of his progress throughout the tournament.

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 local qualifier at Cantigny, in Wheaton.

Michael Schachner, an assistant coach at DePaul, was one shot behind the co-leaders and reigning Illinois Open chapion 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 for played in the Open proper at Torrey Pines, in California, in sectional play next month.

Last of the three Illini local qualifiers will be 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 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove on June 11-13…..The Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational, coming up May 27-30 at The Glen Club  in Glenview, will have its first presenting sponsor.  First Midwest Bank will have that honor at the $600,000 event….B.J. Paul has been named director of player development at Bolingbrook….Nike golf camps will begin at Mistwood, in Romeoville, on June 7….The Illinois, Notre Dame and Northwestern men’s teams were all 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 for May 24 at Sunset Valley, in Highland Park….The Illinois PGA Foundation has begun a series of clinics for military veterans at Pine Meadow, in Mundelein, and Veterans Memorial, in North Chicago.