Brad Marek toiled for about a decade on the professional golf mini-tours, chasing a dream that eluded him. He won on the Dakatos Tour and has played in more state opens than he can count. The 37-year-old PGA Teaching Professional at Corica Park, a public facility near Oakland, Calif., has done some cool things in the game, but Friday may have topped them all. He made the cut in his very first PGA Championship.
Marek shot his second consecutive 1-over 73, making a 35-foot birdie putt on his final hole (the ninth) to cap what had been a terrific day. There were five birdies on his card, including a birdie-birdie start off the 10th tee to begin his day and a chip-in birdie at the par-5 second that thrilled the gallery.
He didn’t just slip into the weekend. At 2-over 146, just seven shots off the lead, Marek is tied for 32nd alongside names such as Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau, Abraham Ancer, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Wallace and Scottie Scheffler. Marek will be joined on the weekend by Ben Cook, who made two solid pars on 17 and 18 to make the cut on the number at 5-over 149. Cook is playing in his third PGA Championship, and it’s the first time he will play on the weekend.
Marek, who was the second-to-last group on the golf course, made his final birdie putt in near darkness, much to the delight of the 20 friends and family members who have made the trek to South Carolina. It’s going to be a fun weekend for Marek, who spends most of his time coaching juniors who aspire to play college golf. What a tale he will have to share with them.
“I'm not sure that it's totally sunk in,” said Marek, who tied for eighth at his first PGA Professional Championship to earn his spot at the Ocean Course. “You know, kind of knew that if I had good preparation and a good plan, that this would be possible, so I got here last Tuesday, the Tuesday before the event. First time I was on property was a week ago on Thursday, so saw the place a bunch.
“Obviously it’s an incredibly difficult golf course. I think it requires you to be very, very patient, so it's a lot of centers of greens, and you have to hit fairways to have success, and short game is obviously super important because there's just some greens that not a whole lot of people are hitting. Yeah, but really proud of myself. First PGA Tour event, to make the cut on this golf course is pretty much a dream come true.”
Cook, 27, weathered a rocky finish – he was 5 over from 13 through 16 – but steadied himself to make two clutch pars to get in with a Friday round of 77. He then had to wait it out to see if his 5-over 149 would be good enough to earn a tee time on the weekend at the Ocean Course.
At the 18th hole, he ripped his best drive of the day, then hit a 3-iron into the wind from 229 yards that finished on the left side of the green, just beyond pin-high. He faced a 40-footer for birdie and wasn’t quite sure if he needed to make it. As soon as he stroked the putt, which was downhill and downwind, he knew he’d hit it too firmly. It finished 8 feet beyond the hole. But Cook, a third-place finisher at the PPC, stepped up and buried the comebacker. It was huge.
“That was a big sigh of relief,” said Cook, who splits his year between Michigan and Florida. He is PGA Director of Instruction at Yankee Springs Golf Course in Wayland, Mich., and also coaches at John’s Island Golf Club in Vero Beach, Fla., in the winter. “As good as I was playing – I was even through 12 – I shouldn’t have had to work so hard at the end. Those last five holes are no joke. It’s been a cool week. I’m out here on the putting green hitting putts next to my heroes, and I have a great support team here. I feel very blessed.”
And now he, like Marek, has earned two more rounds at The Ocean Course. Cook tees off alongside Webb Simpson in an ESPN featured group at 8:40 a.m.; Marek is paired with Matt Wallace at 11:30 a.m., in the group behind Jon Rahm.
“I think any time one of us can make the cut, I think it's really good for (the PGA),” Marek said. “I think there used to be 25 spots in this and it got reduced to 20, so I feel like any time a couple of us can make the cut and represent the PGA well, I think that bodes well for the organization as a whole, and just kind of shows the type of players that are at the top level of the PGA of America.”