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Former WSU standout Max Sekulic keeps long-term goals in mind early in pro career

June 25, 2022 Updated Sat., June 25, 2022 at 6:40 p.m.

By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

Max Sekulic wrapped up his time at Washington State University in early May and, like many recent college graduates, he had already lined up employment.

Sekulic’s new office is large, scenic and changes locations week to week.

The former WSU golf standout has been busy in his first month as a professional, teeing it up in three PGA Tour Canada events and the RBC Canadian Open, a fixture on the PGA Tour. All were dream-come-true moments for Sekulic, who grew up on a farm in Rycroft, population 550, according to 2021 census figures, in northern Alberta.

“That was cool,” Sekulic said in a phone interview earlier this week, “to start my pro career at home and play a well-run tournament on a tour that’s been a staple of Canadian golf for so long.”

It happened because Sekulic made the Canadian national amateur team, which helped him receive sponsor’s exemptions into the three PGA Tour Canada events, and he won the Canadian Men’s Amateur last August to earn a spot in the RBC Canadian Open field. He’s hoping to play in at least three more PGA Tour Canada tournaments. Other options this summer include the Dakotas Tour and an East Coast minitour.

Sekulic had a rooting section of nearly 30 family and friends for his PGA Tour debut at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto, despite the venue being roughly 2,500 miles from Rycroft.

Sekulic shot a pair of 75s and missed the cut, but he had a memorable highlight late in his second round when he made birdie on the par-3 16th, otherwise known as the ‘rink’ hole, a nod to hockey’s popularity in Canada. Fans are situated close to the tee box and celebrate quality shots in the front row by banging on faux hockey boards. Sekulic hit 6-iron on the 205-yard hole to 8 feet and drained the putt to trigger a loud roar from the boisterous crowd.

“We were the last group off No. 1 so we were the last to play 16, but everyone was still there and going nuts,” Sekulic said. “I hit a great tee shot, made the putt, did the putter raise, all the theatrics. Super cool moment, one of the coolest I’ve had on a course.”

The 22-year-old Sekulic made sure to experience as much as he could at the tournament, snapping a picture with Justin Thomas, chatting with Shane Lowry and hitting balls on the range next to Justin Rose.

“It was almost a calendar year (after winning the Canadian Am), so it was a long time to think about it,” Sekulic said. “The course was fun and challenging. Unfortunately, I didn’t play as well as I would have liked, but it was still a great learning experience.”

There have been many learning experiences, some good – a 1-under-par 69 in his first pro round – and some that would appear to be not so good – missing the cut in his first three events. Actually, all of those fall under valuable learning experiences as he tries to secure a foothold in the pro ranks.

Sekulic knows he needs to show progression in his game, which is exactly what he’s done over the past five years to reach this stage of his career. He began at Grand Canyon University, but after a couple of seasons the coaching staff informed him that he might want to consider other schools. He transferred to Washington State and had two strong years, including setting the school record for lowest scoring average (71.29) and earning All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a redshirt senior last season.

His success wasn’t confined to college tournaments. Last summer, he finished second in the Rosauers Open Invitational and fired a final-round 10-under 62 to win the Northwest Open. Both are PGA Pacific Northwest Section majors. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur and won the Canadian Amateur.

“At every level, guys are just marginally better,” said Sekulic, who completed one round at this week’s Elk Ridge Open in Saskatchewan before it was canceled due to heavy rainstorms. “If you walk down a range and watch guys hit balls, you probably don’t notice a huge difference, but they typically make less mistakes, hit it better, make fewer bogeys, have more discipline. At every level, guys learn and prepare better. You just have to learn and improve every year.”

That’s Sekulic’s goal and he understands the hard work required to make it happen. He put in countless hours working on his game and on the family farm, both of which are still going strongly. The family raises cattle and produces peas, wheat, canola, barley and oats and sells pedigreed seed. When Sekulic transferred from Grand Canyon, one of WSU’s drawing cards was the way the rolling hills of the Palouse reminded him of Rycroft.

The golf season was fairly short in northern Alberta, but Sekulic played as often as he could when the weather cooperated. Yes, on rare occasions he smacked practice balls off the snow, but notes “that would be a caricature of what happened” when he was a kid.

“The limited season makes you really appreciate the game,” he said. “That attitude and appreciation of the game carries forward.”

Sekulic is easy to root for with his smooth left-handed swing and unique career path, but the game of golf is rarely easy. His long-term goal is incremental progress. His immediate priority is improving on the greens.

“Generally, I’d say it’s putting,” he said. “I think the stats show that. Improving my putting, my distance for approach wedges, but mostly it’s putting. All these guys have the ability to hit greens and hit it close. It’s all about who makes the most putts at the end of the day.

“When I was a freshman in college, I hit it poorly. Now, it’s the flip side. I hit it better and I need to putt better.”

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