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Mercedes 2009 PGA Championship

The most difficult cut to make in the world of golf

By T.J. Auclair, Interactive Producer-

Many golfers dream of teeing it up in a major championship. Few are able to fulfill that dream.

The PGA Professional National Championship provides 20 PGA Professionals with the opportunity to live their dream of playing in a major, but it isn't easy.

Through section qualifiers and section championships, 312 PGA Professionals earn the right to play in the PGA Professional National Championship. Of those 312, the top-20 finishers become eligible to compete in the PGA Championship, arguably the most difficult cut to make in professional golf.

All of that leads to the Drive to the PGA Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz.

The 42nd PGA Professional National Championship was contested from June 28-July 1, over four grueling rounds played at the Santa Ana Golf Club and host course Twin Warriors Golf Club in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

For the second time since 2005, University of Illinois golf coach Mike Small was the champion, completing a one-shot victory with a final-round, 3-under 68 for a 7-under 277 total. Aside from a tie for 41st in 2008, Small has never finished outside of the top 4 in five appearances at the National Championship.

In 2007, Small was the low PGA Professional in the field at the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., where he received a special trophy alongside the winner of that PGA Championship -- Tiger Woods. Both players again held up trophies this past week -- though 2000 miles apart. Small will certainly hope for a reunion of sorts this coming August.

Small, along with 19 other lucky fellow PGA Professionals will realize their dreams Aug. 13-16, playing alongside major champions Woods, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington in the PGA of America's most prestigious event, the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn.

There are others besides Small who have great stories. Take for instance the incredible journey of Oakmont Country Club PGA Assistant Professional Grant Sturgeon, who opened his National Championship debut with a disappointing 8-over 79 only to shoot a 6-under 65 in Round 2, which included a hole-in-one and a back-nine 30, to make the cut on the number. From there, Sturgeon rallied to astonishingly tie for eighth.

Or, how about Craig Thomas and Keith Dicciani? Both are PGA Professionals out of Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y. and both finished in the top 10 to pave a path to Hazeltine. Oh yeah, and then there's the fact that Dicciani is engaged to Thomas' stepdaughter, Danielle.

Every man has a story. Along with Small, Sturgeon, Thomas and Dicciani, here are the other top-20 finishers moving on to Hazeltine, whose stories you will be reading in the coming weeks:

Steve Schneiter of Sandy, Utah, representing Schneiter's Pebblebrook Links; Mark Sheftic of Ambler, Pa., representing Merion Golf Club; Ryan Benzel of Bothell Wash., representing Battle Creek Golf Course in Tulalip, Wash.; Eric Lippert of Marina, Calif., representing Del Monte Golf Course; Lee Rinker of Jupiter, Fla., representing Emerald Dunes Golf Club; Robert Gaus of St. Louis, Mo., representing Tower Tee Golf Center; Tim Weinhart of Alpharetta, Ga., representing St. Marlo Country Club; Todd Lancaster of Aurora, Ohio, representing Westwood Country Club; Sam Arnold of Cincinnati, Ohio, representing The Vineyard Golf Course; Brian Gaffney of Rumson, N.J., representing Rumson Country Club; Greg Bisconti of South Salem, N.Y., Saint Andrews Golf Club; Mike Miles of Huntington Beach, Calif., representing Virginia Country Club; Mitch Lowe of Modesto, Calif., representing Del Rio Country Club; Scott Hebert of Traverse City, Mich., representing Grand Traverse Resort & Spa; Kevin Roman of Roswell, Ga., Cherokee Town and Country Club; and Chris Starkjohann of Encinitas, Calif., representing Torrey Pines Gold Club and Golf Outings.

In the Drive to the PGA Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz, you'll learn more about these players -- what drives them? What does it mean to compete in the year's final major, Glory's Last Shot? How do they prepare while juggling their day-to-day duties as a PGA Professional?

Come back each week to read about the remarkable trek that is sure to provide these talented PGA Professionals with a lifetime of memories in their respective Drive to the PGA Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz.

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