Three golfers with Chicago ties await the PGA Championship


Next week’s PGA Championship is the second of golf’s four major tournaments of 2024, and it’ll be extremely significant from a Chicago perspective.

Two present Chicago area club professionals – Andy Svoboda of Butler National and Jeff Kellen of North Shore – earned spots in the field by finishing in the top 20 at last week’s PGA Professionals Championship in Texas.

And that’s not all.  A third player with strong Illinois ties, Brad Marek, also cracked the top 20 and earned his second appearance in the PGA.  Marek grew up in Arlington Heights, attended Hersey High School and won the Illinois State Junior in 2002 and the Illinois State Amateur in 2005. He turned pro in 2008 after playing collegiately at Indiana.

Svoboda tied for second in the PGA Professionals Championship at Fields Ranch, in Frisco,  TX,  Marek tied for sixth and Kellen tied for eighth.  That tourney had a 312-player field, with all the participants having survived PGA sectional qualifiers. Now they’ll match skills with the world’s best touring professionals.

The experience is nothing new for Marek, who has been working in  since California since 2015.  In 2021 he qualified after a top-20 finish in the PGA Professionals event, then he made the cut in the PGA Championship at Kiawah, in South Carolina.

At Kiawah Marek finished 78th, beating two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who finished 80th, in a year when such luminaries as Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Adam Scott and Justin Thomas didn’t survive the 36-hole cut.

The Svoboda-Kellen scenario is interesting as well.  Kellen switched head professional jobs, moving from Butler, in Oak Brook, to North Shore, in Glenview, during the winter.  Svoboda, who had been the Connecticut PGA Player of the Year in 2023, was hired at Butler in March.

While a Chicago newcomer, Svoboda is a seasoned tournament player.  Now 44, he topped $1 million in winnings on both the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours. He was a three-time winner on the Korn Ferry and runner-up at the PGA Tour stop in New Orleans. Like Kellen, he’ll be playing in the PGA Championship for the first time.

“It’s a dream come true,’’ said Svoboda.  “(The Professionals Championship) was a great week on an amazing golf course with amazing competition.  It was fun to play at the new home of the PGA of America.’’

Svoboda will be in the field for the Illinois PGA’s first of four majors this week.  The IPGA Match Play began its three-day run on Tuesday at Bull Valley, in Woodstock.

For Kellen making it to Valhalla was even more special.  He did it with his father serving as his caddie in Texas.

“I’m so proud to be a PGA member,’’ said Kellen.  “This was a wild week with all the weather delays, but I was able to buckle down and play some good golf.’’

Getting two Illinois Section members into the PGA Championship is a rarity.  The last time it happened was in 2004 when Roy Biancalana and Mike Small made it.

HERE AND THERE —  Illinois’ Jackson Buchanan has been named joint winner of the Big Ten Player of the Year honor after a ballot review.  He shares the honor with Purdue’s Herman Sekne. The Illini have had a Big Ten Player of the Year for four straight years.

NCAA men’s regional play begins on Monday (MAY 13) with Illinois in the Stanford Regional.  Big Ten champion Northwestern will be in the North Carolina Regional and Notre Dame in the Texas Regional.  Two Illinois State golfers, Valentin Peugnet and Alex McCulla, will compete as individuals in the Purdue Regional.

Jason Day has entered July’s John Deere Classic.  He started his PGA Tour career there in 2006 but hasn’t played in Illinois’ only annual PGA Tour event since 2011.

Illinois third, and last, U.S. Open local qualifier will be held Monday (MAY 13) at Illini Country Club in Springfield.  It’ll have 84 players competing for five spots in the final qualifying stage.  Illini CC will be hosting a local for the 45th consecutive year, or every year since the U.S. Golf Assn. has held such qualifiers.  No other club in the country can make that claim.

The Golfers on Golf Radio show kicked off its 34th season last week on WNDZ (750-AM).  The longest-running golf radio show in Chicago history has a new starting time – 9 a.m., on Saturdays.  It has three co-hosts at the moment – Rory Spears, Ed Stevenson and Len Ziehm —  with Bill Berger fighting a battle with cancer.