The PGA¬†of America will lay out the welcome mat for Tour players, fans and the association's executives during this week's PGA Championship at Baltusrol. The only people who might not feel totally welcome are the PGA's own members, the 25 club pros who qualified for the tournament. The PGA's leaders don't want nearly that many of the association's 28,000 club pros in the event. Ten years ago the club pro slots were slashed from 40 to 25. Next year the number will drop to 20, and Roger Warren, the president of the PGA, has told me there's a "strong feeling among the [PGA] board that the proper number is five."
I take issue with the PGA's stated reasons for wanting to eliminate PGA club pros like me. PGA management thinks the Players Championship will officially become the fifth major and replace the PGA Championship as the major with the strongest field. That, the reasoning goes, would be a huge financial blow to the PGA because it would reduce the tournament's appeal to sponsors, leaving the association with less money to support its rank-and-file members. That's baloney.
In addition, Warren has told me, "The gap between club pros and Tour pros is widening," and "No one joins the PGA of America anymore to play competitive golf." More hogwash.
Sure, it's unlikely that a PGA club pro will contend for the Wanamaker Trophy at Baltusrol, but last year at Whistling Straits three club pros made the cut and one of them--Chip Sullivan, the head pro at Ashley Plantation in Daleville, Va.--finished 31st, with a one-under 287. The PGA needs to promote its members as people who can play at a high level to offset the perception that club pros are sweater folders and snack bar managers who can't break 80.
In the end my biggest problem is how the PGA leadership is dealing with the issue. Currently, they determine the number of club pro slots by a vote of the PGA board's 21 members and delegates from the 41 sections at the PGA's annual meeting, but many of those delegates and board members do not compete in tournament golf anymore. If the PGA let all of its members vote, I guarantee we'd keep at least the 25 spots we currently have, and we might even ask for more.
It may be true that most of our club pros don't have a chance to do well at the national Club Pro Championship and qualify for the PGA, but golf is a sport, and every athlete is a dreamer. We need leaders who understand the enormous value most club pros put on the opportunity to represent their association in the major championship that bears our name.
I hope the PGA of America will give guys like me the chance to keep dreaming.
Wayne DeFrancesco teaches at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville, Md.
by JIM GORANT
With its global field and unique format, the International should be a World Golf Championship.
JOHN ZICH/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
DeFrancesco (left, with David Duval in 1999) has played in five PGAs.