For past champs, an elusive but worthy goal

Past champions David Hutsell and Chip Sullivan would love to add a second National Championship trophy to their collection.

Winning the National Championship is incredible. And for seven past champions, that makes going for more even more fun.

By John Kim, PGA.com Coordinating Producer

SEASIDE, Calif. -- Winning the PGA Professional National Championship can change your life. But with the depth of talent in a field of 312 players, the task is understandably difficult. So how difficult is it to win it twice? Mike Small, a three-time winner now in contention for a fourth notwithstanding, is among a handful of past champions who are still in the chase for an elusive and increasingly difficult goal.

Defending champion David Hutsell, the PGA Director of Instruction at Elkridge Club in Baltimore, Md., believes that the difficulty of winning one only adds to the appeal of trying to win two. 

"When you win, it's such a rush. And you'll reflect on what a big accomplishment it is, knowing how good these other guys are," he explained. "It's a small list of people who've won one of these, who can claim to be the No. 1 player in the country for one year. It's a very small list who can claim it twice. I'm honored to be one of the guys who can be going for No. 2."

"It would mean the world to me," said Bob Sowards, winner of the 2004 National Championship and PGA teaching professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club. "To win one is incredible, and no one can take that away from you, but to be able to validate it with another -- that's some elite company. I don't know how many people have won two (two players have won two, two players have won three) but I know it's a really small number."

Scott Hebert, winner of the 2008 National Championship, pointed out that not all golf courses suit each player the same.

"You'll see a number of really good players, the same names, up near the top every year," he said. "But to win, some courses are just more suited to certain players than others."

The PGA Head Professional at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Acme, Mich., laughed and joked about lobbying for one permanent venue.

"If we could hold it at Reynolds Plantation every year (where Hebert won his title)," he said, "I'd like my chances at a second win in the event."

"You prepare the best you can," said Chip Sullivan, the PGA Director of Golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va., and 2007 National Champion, "but you're playing against a deep and talented field at a new course every year, it's hard to have the same level of comfort that you may have had in a previous year. When you don't have that familiarity, when you only have two practice rounds to learn two courses, there's a part of your game that's very different than it might be at your home course."

Hutsell pointed out that priority for much of the field was a top-20 finish, which would get them the coveted invitation to play in the PGA Championship. "That's what you set yourself up for, and if you are in position for that, you then hope you are in a place to contend.  But many players are looking at the top-20 cut line."

Sullivan, though still in contention for this year's championship, did point out that next year's championship will be at Sunriver Resort in Bend, Ore., the site of his National Championship win.  

"Oh, I'm sure I'll be a big favorite," he laughed. "But I am excited about it. I'll be ready."

Seven previous champions made the cut this week. In addition to Hutsell, Sowards, Hebert and Sullivan, Darrell Kestner, Mike Small and Ron Philo Jr. are also playing on the final day.