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Tim Thelen
Tim Thelen of Bryan, Texas, has plenty of experience playing in the PGA Championship -- he's made it into eight of them. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Trip to Hazeltine awaits 20 fortunate finishers at PPNC

When all is said and done at the 42nd PGA Professional National Championship, one man will be left clutching the crystal Walter Hagen Cup. But in reality, there will be 20 winners at Twin Warriors Golf Club, because they'll be headed to Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 91st PGA Championship.

By John L. Byrwa, Managing Editor

It's perhaps the only tournament in professional golf where one can finish in 20th place and still leave the course with goose bumps. That's because finishing in 20th place at the 2009 PGA Professional National Championship, like every other year, will earn that lucky player a dream come true: entry into a major championship.

Keeping with tradition, the PGA Professional National Championship will crown one champion and at least 19 other winners when the 42nd edition of the premier event for PGA professionals is staged June 28-July 1 at Twin Warriors Golf Club in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M. Featuring a field of the finest 312 PGA professionals from around the country, the event will be played over two courses -- Twin Warriors Golf Club and Santa Ana Golf Club -- with the final round being staged at Twin Warriors.

The top 20 finishers at Twin Warriors will represent their association in the year's final major, where they will tee it up against the strongest field in professional golf that will include the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and all their pals.

The thought of teeing it up with the best players in the game on one of the toughest courses in the world can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking for even the strongest of players. After all, these guys spend most of their year running their golf club, keeping the pro shop properly stocked and giving lessons to the their members.

"I'm excited," Matt Seitz of Hutchinson, Kan., said after his sixth-place finish in the 2007 PPNC got him into the 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. "I'm very excited, very grateful for the opportunity. Of course, I'm a bit apprehensive as well. I don't really know what to expect. But no one wants to go there and embarrass themselves, so I'll work hard to get as ready as I can and do my best."

Of course, the PGA Championship plays no favorites and knows not -- nor does it care -- what credentials ones brings to its hallowed grounds. Evidence last year when Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich., played like a beast in a bad mood and allowed not a single PGA professional to make the cut. It was the first time since 2003 at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., that no PGA professionals played on the weekend.

"It was a great experience -- the hardest golf course I've ever played," said Tim Thelen, the PGA Director of Instruction at Traditions Golf Club at Texas A&M University in Bryan, Texas, after his experience at Oakland Hills. "I can't remember the last two times that I've played two rounds of golf and I had four double bogeys."

And Thelen has played in eight PGA Championships.

Bogeys and double-bogeys aside, the experience of playing in a major championship, alongside the greatest players in the game, more than makes up for any disappointment.

"Well, it's amazing to have even gotten a chance to play in this in the first place," David Long, the PGA Director of Golf at The Country Club at Woodmore in Bowie, Md., said at Oakland Hills last year. "There's a lot of qualifying, as you know, to get to this point. So the whole ride has been great, and everybody that I ran into has always said, just enjoy the moment. I don't do this for a living; these guys do. I still have a job to go home to, I hope.

"But everybody, the players I played with every day, practice rounds, tournament rounds, all said that they were well aware of how hard and how we have to qualify to get to this point. We definitely have game, too, in a different way. It was a great experience, emotionally, physically, still a great experience and something that I'll never forget."

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