If you look closely, that was Brad Marek in the background when Phil Mickelson collected the Wanamaker Trophy during the awards ceremony at the PGA Championship.
You really don’t have to look that closely because Marek tends to stand out at 6-foot-6 and typically sporting a bucket hat on the golf course. Three nights earlier, after a first-round 73 on the difficult Ocean Course, Marek sent in his entry form to play in the Lilac City Invitational at the Fairways.
“I joked with a couple of my buddies, I can guarantee I’m the only one here signing up for this,” Marek cracked.
True. Marek beat out Joe Summerhays, who missed the cut at the PGA Championship, by four days. Summerhays, a teaching pro in Utah, emailed his Lilac entry on the Monday after the PGA Championship.
The two finished in a nine-player tie for eighth at the PGA Professional Championship in late April. The top 20 clinched spots in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
Community Colleges of Spokane golf coach Corey Prugh knows the feeling. He played in the 2012 PGA Championship won by Rory McIlroy, who closed with a 6-under 66 at the Ocean Course.
“It’s just long and windy,” Prugh recalled, “and anything will play tough in that world.”
Marek, Summerhays and Prugh, along with past champions Russell Grove (2013), Vinnie Murphy (2018) and Jamie Hall (2020), are among the favorites at the 57th Lilac City Invitational. The 54-hole tournament begins a three-day run Friday. The winner pockets $10,000.
Marek, who placed second behind Hall last year, decided to make a return trip to Spokane in part because it fits his schedule. He’s one of several in the Lilac field, including Summerhays, who will play in a U.S. Open Sectional qualifier Monday at Meadow Springs in Richland.
Marek earned some airtime during the telecast of the PGA Championship by holing a chip shot and draining a long putt on the final hole of the second round. He was tied for 32nd after 36 holes and finished with the second-lowest score among club pros. Only two made the cut.
“It was very, very difficult,” said Marek, who runs a junior golf academy in Alameda, California. “There were a couple par 5s that played downwind the first three days. Other than that, you were hard-pressed to have any birdie looks without hitting a really good shot.”
Marek became popular online when a video of his stretching routine on the range before rounds went viral. He said his warm-up is a compilation of routines from two trainers he’s worked with over the years.
One commentator joked that it looked like Marek was trying to direct airplanes to their gate. Another compared it to a soccer throw-in, but added, “Having said that, at 37 he’s very mobile so it works.”
“We had some fun with it during the week,” Marek said. “For somebody like me, any kind of attention … my phone, email and texts were off the hook with lessons.”
We’re guessing it had something to do with the quality of his play, too.
The publicity helped create the most memorable part of his PGA experience.
“The coolest thing is I had about 20, 25 friends and family there cheering me on,” Marek said. “And once all that stuff went viral, it was cool how much the other fans were behind me.“
Summerhays struggled with the challenging course and windy conditions, but he still had a great time at his second PGA Championship.
“I played a practice round with Tony Finau. He’s from Utah and I’ve gotten to know him over the years,” said Summerhays, whose cousin, Boyd, is Finau’s coach. “Just talking to him about his experiences on tour and getting to know him a little better was super memorable.
“I stayed for the final round and I got to watch Phil finish out that last hole. It’s a different experience than any other tournament. Those players are so good. It was amazing to watch them navigate the course.”
Summerhays, 49, knew about the Lilac through his former BYU teammate, Todd Pence, who grew up in Cheney and is a regular in the tourney field. Marek said he was searching for events to play last summer during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Lilac popped up on his computer screen.
Marek nearly forced a playoff last year, but his birdie putt on No. 18 narrowly missed and Hall made a 4-foot par putt for a one-stroke win.
“Given the circumstances (with COVID-19 restrictions), I thought they did a fantastic job last year and the course was in great shape,” Marek said. “A lot of the reason I’m back is they did such a nice job of running the tournament.”
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