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Reigning PGA Professional National Champion Chip Sullivan also played in the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Reigning PGA Professional National Champion Chip Sullivan also played in the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Maginnes: Its field sets PGA Championship apart

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The PGA Championship has a long history with the PGA TOUR but, John Maginnes explains, the season's final major also honors working club professionals everywhere by including 20 of the best of them in the starting field each year.

By John Maginnes, Contributor

Everything has an acronym these days. There was a time when the government and the military held the patent on acronyms. But with texting and instant messaging, the kids have gotten into the act. If you don't know what "lol" or "brb" means, then you are old and need to ask a teenager.

In the world of men's professional golf we have two acronyms. Or, perhaps we only have one with two separate meanings. For 39 years the PGA TOUR and the PGA of America have been separate and distinct bodies sharing a three-letter initial.

The PGA TOUR, the playing professionals' division of the PGA of America for more than a half century, broke away from the PGA of America in 1968 to become the independent institution that it is today. The PGA of America is the membership organization that includes the 28,000 club professionals and teachers throughout the United States.

Are you confused yet? Just wait a minute, because it is about to get even hazier.

The final major championship every year is the PGA Championship. The PGA Championship is the championship of the PGA of America. However, the money that PGA TOUR players make in the PGA Championship is official money on the PGA TOUR, and the tournament offers FedExCup points, as well.

I promise you that what I have said is accurate if not intelligible.

The majors, including the PGA Championship, were all in existence long before the PGA TOUR was founded. The majors are the cornerstone of professional golf and the hallmark of any player's career. One of the greatest records in all of sports is Jack Nicklaus' 18 professional major championships. That record begins and ends any discussion about the greatest player of all time -- at least for now.

The PGA TOUR recognized at its founding the preeminence of the majors and included their players' accomplishments in those tournaments in the record books.

There was a time when players who spent their summers in the sun chasing trophies spent their winters at country clubs giving lessons and running the golf shop.

In the same way you could find baseball players in the 1950s working in the neighborhood hardware store in the off-season, you could find TOUR players at the local driving range. Obviously, those days are gone.

At the PGA Championship, though, they are remembered. The PGA of America has its own unique steps to qualify. For players on the PGA TOUR who haven't won in the last year, the PGA of America runs its own money list. The top-70 money earners from the 2006 INTERNATIONAL through the 2007 Canadian Open are exempt into the PGA Championship. High finishes, wins and world rankings also help earn TOUR players spots in the year's final major.

What makes the PGA Championship unique is the fact that the top 20 finishers in the PGA Professional National Championship also earn entry into the elite field.

The gentlemen running the golf school in Pinehurst or the head professional at your local club may well be headed to Tulsa to tee it up with defending champion Tiger Woods. Players like Kelly Mitchum, Mike Small and reigning club professonal champion Chip Sullivan are all accomplished players.

Kelly, who works in the golf school at Pinehurst, is one of many players who had the tools to pursue a life in the fairways playing against the game's best players. Like many others, though, Kelly chose a more stable and consistent life in the game he loves rather than the trial and tribulations of a life spent on the road.

Next week Kelly and 19 others will pack their bags and head for Tulsa with boyhood dreams of glory that never completely die. After the PGA Championship, he will be back on the driving range at Pinehurst nurturing the games of his students. Unless, of course --
well, wouldn't that be a story?

The acronym standing in the way of Kelly and everyone else is TW, and that is an acronym that needs no further explanation.

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