Brian Flajole named new tournament director of the Boeing Classic

Brian Flajole is the new tournament director of the Boeing Classic, succeeding Michelle DeLancy.

Golf Today Northwest sat down with him at his office on the Virginia Mason campus on First Hill to talk about his background and the tournament that will be played Aug. 25-27 at The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge.

Q: Coming back to Seattle is a homecoming for you because you went to Juanita High School, right?

A:  It is. Our family lived real close to Juanita High. My wife Kay and I were high-school sweethearts. I graduated in 1978 and was student-body vice-president. My best sport was baseball, and I played catcher. I played quarterback in football but got hurt my senior year. After graduating, I went to WSU and majored in communications.

It’s sort of a real homecoming because Kay and I are renting a condo in Juanita. I admit that I’m stunned at how high real-estate prices are in Seattle and the Eastside.

Q: Tell us about your family.

A: My late father, Ken, worked for UPS. My mother, Colleen, now lives at Trilogy, the over-55 community outside Redmond. I have two brothers and one sister and they all live in the Puget Sound area. My wife Kay and I have three kids – Tyler, 27, Sam, 26 and Carly, 21.  Carly just graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and that’s where Sam went to college. Tyler went to California-Davis. Tyler and Sam work in high tech, with Sam in Los Angeles and Tyler in San Francisco.

Q:  Is it true that Gary Wright, the retired and respected Seahawks media-relations pro, started you in your career in sports administration?

A: Yes, Gary has been a long-time mentor of mine.  I originally helped him coach a kids’ basketball team when I was home from college. My younger brother Doug and one of Gary’s sons were on the team. Gary said, “Why don’t you come and work for me?” He offered me an internship at the Seahawks. I worked there in 1983. That was Chuck Knox’s first year and the Seahawks made the playoffs for the first time. We beat Denver in the wildcard game and then upset Miami in the Orange Bowl. We got back from Miami and I went to a Pioneer Square bar that had a long line outside it of happy Seahawk fans. I had my game credential around my neck and the employee at the door spotted it and said, “You were at the game? Come on in!”  The win put the Seahawks in the AFC title game. We had beaten Oakland twice in the regular season but lost to the Raiders.

Q: You were the PR man for the Tacoma Stars of the Major Indoor Soccer League for much of the 1980s. Talk about it.

A:  It was fun. We had some competitive teams, especially those coached by Alan Hinton.  Some of the notable players were Preki and Steve Zungul who was nicknamed “The Lord of all Indoors.” We were drawing about 12,000 people a game. The 1986-87 team led Dallas 3 games to 1 in the championship series, but then lost the series.  We had a 3-1 lead late in Game 7 at home, but Dallas scored two quick goals to send the game to overtime and then won it.

Q: You were the “right-hand man” of University of Washington athletic director Mike Lude in the early 1990s. Tell us about it.

A:  Yes, Mike had a huge influence on me as my office adjoined Mike’s office and he could just lean back and holler to me. One big memory is of his game-day walks on the mornings of home football games.  He was full of nervous energy and would walk through all the athletic facilities. He would straighten chairs and wipe chalkboards. My job was to bring the donuts and write down his directives to coaches and staff such as, “Clean this mess up!”  Then he would have coffee with Coach Don James and talk about the game that was just hours away and I would type up all the notes.

Q:  You were Lude’s assistant at the Blockbuster Bowl then took it over yourself, right?

A:  Yes. I joined Mike when he became executive director of the Blockbuster Bowl in suburban Miami. Then he became interim athletic director at Auburn University. He wanted me to go with him, but I had already moved my family across the country and wanted to stay in Florida. I replaced Mike as head of the Blockbuster Bowl.

Q: How did you wind up in the golf business?

A: I went to work for Raycom Sports and then their golf division got bought out by the Bruno Event Management Team. I became a vice-president at Bruno and lived in the Sacramento area. I oversaw several events a year, everything from PGA and LPGA events to Tour tournaments. I was in charge of the 2015 U.S. Senior Open and the 2016 U.S. Women’s Open.  I was interested in returning to the Northwest and Gary Wright told me about the Boeing Classic job becoming open and I applied.

Q: Any big changes in mind for the Boeing Classic?

A:  Not many for this year as it is a great event!  I also want to go through this year’s tournament with our team and see how everything has been working and then decide on any changes.  However, one change I want to make this year is to get rid of the shotgun start for the Korean Air Pro-Am. I want groups teeing off No. 1 and No. 10 and have announcers introduce each participant. They deserve it.

Q:  Is it true that 80 percent of the volunteers at the Boeing Classic are returnees from previous years?

A:  Yes.  We’re proud of that, too.  We couldn’t put on the tournament without them.  Some of the volunteer’s time their vacations so they can be available during tournament week. The Boeing Classic has raised more than $6 million for charity since its inception in 2005.  That wouldn’t be possible without volunteers.

Q:  Who are among the golfers who have committed to play this year?

A:  Defending champion Bernhard Langer has committed to play and so have Steve Stricker and Miguel Angel Jimenez.  It will be the first time in the tournament for Stricker and Jimenez. Those are three of the big names. We’re expecting a strong field as always because the tournament has such a great reputation. Players like playing in front of big crowds and they like the course, The Club at Snoqualmie Ridge (previously named TPC Snoqualmie Ridge). They also like the cooler Northwest climate in August.

Q: What about John Daly?

A:  Haven’t heard. I have heard that he is doing an exhibition in Eastern Europe, but I don’t know exactly when that is and whether it will keep him from our event. Remember, a lot of golfers on this Tour don’t commit to tournaments until a few weeks before them.

Q: What about Fred Couples, the hometown hero?

A: I’m told that if he’s healthy, he will play.  His back is always a question mark. But he won in Tucson this year.

Q: Please explain the relationship between Virginia Mason Medical Center and the Tour?

A:  OK. Virginia Mason is the contract holder for the tournament from PGA Tour Champions.  The biggest beneficiary of the tournament is the Benaroya Research Institute that is an affiliate of the Virginia Mason Health System. The institute is on the Virginia Mason campus on First Hill. The institute is pursuing cures for auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, lupus and Crohn’s Disease. Boeing is and has been the major supporter of the tournament and in helping us raise money for charity. They have a sponsorship agreement with both the Tour and with Virginia Mason.

Q: The tournament has a one-of-a-kind opening – a flyover up the 18th fairway by a Boeing jet – and a nice closing ceremony with the awarding of an aviation jacket. Any word on what model of Boeing plane will be in this year’s flyover?

A:  Not yet. Larry Dickenson from Boeing came up with both unique ideas. We usually don’t know the exact plane until right before the event as Boeing coordinates a plane going through final tests before delivery.

Q:  The menu of special days – Family Day on Saturday with face painting and a bouncy house and Military Appreciation Day on Sunday with military personnel remains the same, correct?

A:  That’s right.

Q:  How serious a golfer are you?

A:  I play 10-12 times a year but hope to play more now that all our kids are out of college. My handicap index never has been lower than 17.

Q: Do you have a favorite hole on the tournament course?

A: Probably No. 14, “The Canyon Hole” where golfers have the option of going for the green over the canyon or playing it safe.

Interview conducted by Craig Smith

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