'A career-defining event'

With the 44th PGA Professional National Championship approaching at Hershey Country Club in Hershey, Pa., this June,'s T.J. Auclair caught up with PGA of America President Allen Wronowski to get his take on the Championship, the venue and the coveted trip to the PGA Championship that the top 20 PNC finishers earn for their efforts.

wronowski_576x324 Thank you for your time, President Wronowski. Can you tell us a little about the venue, Hershey Country Club?

Wronowski: Hershey, Pa., rightly declares that it is the "sweetest place on earth," and I have to think that some of the greatest names in golf history also believed that slogan when they both won championships on the property and worked in the golf shop at Hershey. Byron Nelson won the 1940 PGA Championship at Hershey Country Club, and two of Hershey's past head club professionals, Ben Hogan and Henry Picard, played at their peak while employed there. Hogan won 52 of his career 63 victories while associated with the club, and the Hogan Grill will be a most inviting stop for visitors at the National Championship.

Picard and Hogan, what a great twosome in golf history. I cannot think of another club in the country who can boast back-to-back head professionals becoming World Golf Hall of Fame members. Hershey Country Club offers two wonderful venues, the East and West Courses, for the 44th PGA Professional National Championship.

Hershey Country Club also is a tremendous destination for families, and I can see many of our competing PGA Professionals bringing their children. One of Hershey's special features is the Spring Lake Golf Course, which is an enviable model for the country for juniors age 18 and younger. The course was the first of its kind in the United States where guests over the age of 18 must be invited by a junior.
For several years now, we have seen you at the PGA Professional National Championship. With the raw emotion and everything that's on the line for the competitors, it has to be one of the greatest, most underrated events in golf, don't you think?

Wronowski: I've always enjoyed the privilege of getting to meet most of the players that make up the field for our PGA Professional National Championship. I see the passion, the excitement in their eyes from the first tee onward, and I guarantee you that the Championship is not underrated when it comes to our members. It is their major, and showcases the playing aspect of our core values as PGA members.

When you think of the more than 3,200 PGA Professionals from 41 Sections across the country who annually attempt to earn a berth, it is a career-defining event. With the expanded TV coverage on the Golf Channel over the years, the prestige of the event continues to expand.

The Championship began in 1968 as an outgrowth of the PGA Championship, honoring those member professionals who were not pursuing Tour careers, and were toiling in their facilities while fulfilling the many roles of a today's PGA Professional -- from player, to administrator, skilled instructor -- the list goes on and on. The National Champion list includes Sam Snead and Bob Rosburg, who were very proud to have won the National Championship in addition to a PGA Championship. The list of past Champions features many special personal stories. Speaking of which, there are so many terrific storylines each year at the PGA Professional National Championship. Is there one story or player in particular that sticks out in your mind?

Wronowski: There are so many special human-interest stories every year, and I have been fortunate to have attended several and witnessed through video presentation many of the Champions of the past.

There's so much emotion coiled up among the players. You see how much the Championship means to them. In recent years, people like Wayne DeFrancesco in 2001 and Chip Sullivan in 2007 each won at Sunriver in Oregon while having battled back from health issues. And, our most dominant current-day Champion, Mike Small, the head coach at the University of Illinois, could barely walk before he won in 2009 in New Mexico.

Last year in French Lick, Indiana, Mike needed treatment for tendonitis before the first round on an elbow, which has nine surgical screws in it. Somehow he battled back, and that reflects many of the same competitive fire I see in so many others who have not been fortunate to lift the Walter Hagen Cup. Finally, can you talk a little about the significance -- from the standpoint of a PGA Professional -- of qualifying for the PGA Championship through the PGA Professional National Championship?

The low 20 scorers in a PGA Professional National Championship who earn a berth in the PGA Championship have elevated their games to the highest level. They have risen above their peers to compete later in the year as part of strongest field in golf.

It is unquestionably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of those 20 PGA Professionals. The PGA Championship is our Association's premier event, and those 20 PGA Professionals have the honor and respect of their peers by representing The PGA of America in a major championship.