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Make no mistake, PGA's finest at Southern Hills 'to compete'
Forget that they spend the majority of their time running a golf shop, conducting clinics or making sure they have in stock the color shirt Mrs. Smith demands. The 20 PGA Professionals in the field for the 89th PGA Championship are here to compete.
By John Kim, Coordinating Producer
TULSA, Okla. -- Call them fortunate, call them excited, call them nervous. But the one thing that you cannot call the 20 PGA Golf Professionals that will be taking part in the 89th PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club is "honorary."
Each of the 20 PGA Golf Professionals in the field earned their way to Tulsa via a clutch performance at the PGA Professional National Championship held at the Sunriver Resort in Sunriver, Ore., in June.
"There's no question, I'm here to compete," says Tim Thelen, the PGA Director of Instruction at Traditions Golf Club at Texas A&M University. "No one is here to be a placeholder or to simply carry a banner for the club professionals. We can play -- as we showed up at Sunriver -- and this is our opportunity to show it on a world stage."
Thelen, who is playing in his seventh PGA Championship, likes his chances to play well this week.
"This golf course kind of sets up for me," claims Thelen. "It's not that long, it's narrow, and if you hit in the rough, it's rough. So no, I'm not here to just hold a spot, I'm here to reach my goals -- to make the cut, and then I'll reassess my goals from there."
"It's not realistic to think we can consistently perform like the TOUR players, who can work on their games as much as they like," adds Kelly Mitchum, a PGA Professional at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort. "We all put in 50-60 hours a week with our work responsibilities, and then get out to work on our games when we can.
"I didn't really get to play too much this summer," Mitchum further explains as to the difference between touring professionals and the PGA Golf Professionals. "Only in the last week did I really get to get out on the course. With junior camps and regular instruction, you just don't have time. But that's not to say we don't expect to play well. Come Thursday morning, I'll tee it and do the best I can."
The PGA Championship is, after all, the championship of the PGA of America, the association that has 28,000 members that promote and grow the game of golf. The inclusion of the PGA Golf Professional is not only important to the event, it is imperative.
PGA of America president Brian Whitcomb recently emphasized the point.
"These are world-class players and represent their association and their peers when they tee it up in the PGA Championship," says Whitcomb. "They are wonderful ambassadors of the game and of the PGA, they represent the best of what we offer. This is their national championship, they are essential to this tournament."
Chip Sullivan, the PGA Head Professional at Ashley Plantation in Daleville, Va., understands the demands of golf at the highest level and the responsibilities of a PGA Golf Professional.
"I was fortunate enough to spend a season on the PGA TOUR," says Sullivan, who won the 2007 PGA Professional National Championship in Sunriver, Ore. "I'm not awe struck by seeing the TOUR guys or teeing up next to them, but I do make it a point to really appreciate and enjoy the moment. And you know, that's when I tend to play my best, when I'm relaxed and enjoying myself instead of weighing myself down with too many expectations."
"But how can you not enjoy it?" Sullivan adds. "It's what everyone dreams of, playing in a major championship with the whole world watching."
"We know we can play at a very high level," notes Tim Thelen. "We worked to get into the field, we played some great golf to get here. Many of us have played with these guys before. It's a matter of putting it together at the right time. Sure, it's exciting, but it's about competing."
For the 20 PGA Golf Professionals who are representing themselves, their home clubs, their memberships, their students, and their association, playing this week certainly is a dream come true. They are excited and they are appreciative of being here. But that's only the first chapter, not the whole story.
The 20 PGA Golf Professionals in the field are:
Bill Amundsen -- Black River Falls, Wis.
Ryan Benzel -- Bothell, Wash.
Greg Bisconti -- South Salem, N.Y.
Kevin Burton -- Boise, Idaho
Matt Call -- Castle Rock, Colo.
Bob Gaus -- St. Louis, Mo.
Scott Hebert -- Traverse City, Mich.
Brad Lardon -- Bryan, Texas
Bob McGrath -- San Jose, Calif.
Kelly Mitchum -- Southern Pines, N.C.
John O'Leary -- Reston, Va.
Micah Rudosky -- Cortez, Colo.
Phil Schmitt -- Baton Rouge, La.
Matt Seitz -- Hutchinson, Kan.
Butch Sheehan -- Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Mike Small -- Champaign, Ill.
Chip Sullivan -- Troutville, Va.
Tim Thelen -- College Station, Texas
Erik Wolf -- Palm Desert, Calif.
Don Yrene -- Scottsdale, Ariz.