It's the World Series, Super Bowl, U.S. Open and Masters, all in one.
That's how Mike Small described it. And he should know, since he has been the winner three times since 2005, including the past 2 years.
The PGA Professional National Championship will be held at Hershey Country Club on June 26 to 29. More than 3,700 club pros tried to qualify. Of those, 312 made it into the field. The top 20 finishers will earn a trip to the PGA Championship in August at Atlanta Athletic Club. It's a rather coveted perk.
"That's what you're shooting for when you come here," said the 45-year-old Small, the head coach at Illinois, during a recent media day visit. "That's the first goal. You don't want to shoot yourself out of [contention]. Then you start to think about winning.
"The PGA is a career highlight. It's my association [PGA of America]. It's my big deal."
He won last year at the Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Ind. He then missed the cut at the PGA at Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.), shooting 78-74. In fact, he's never made it to the weekend at golf's fourth major, although he came up just one shot short in 2006. That's not the point. What counts is he got there.
"It's a unique opportunity for us," Small said. "We're all in [the business] for the right reasons, to be there for our members and the public. Some approach it differently than others. That's what makes this so great. We'd all want to be on the PGA Tour, but that's not the reality of our situations.
"We're doing what we love to do. And we still have that chance, to test your games and your skills against the best."
Fourteen players from the Philadelphia section, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, will be trying to live the dream as well. A year ago, three from our area made it: Mark Sheftic, a teaching pro at Merion, who also qualified in 2009; Stu Ingraham, head pro at MGOLF Driving Range & Learning Center, who made the cut in 1993 and '96; and Rich Steinmetz, head pro at Spring-Ford.
Only one club pro survived the 2010 cut: Rob Labritz, the director of golf at Glen Arbor in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Doesn't matter. They all belonged. In a lot of ways, it's as much their moment as it for the eventual champ. That's the beauty of it.
Nobody has won the PNC four times. And nobody's gone back-to-back-to-back. Larry Gilbert (1981, '82 and '91) is the only other fellow to own three titles. So Small will be going after history as well. Not that he really needs any added motivation.
"This is as big as it gets for us," said Small, an Illini teammate of Steve Stricker. "It's our championship. We're all competitors.
"This is classic test. The last few years we've played what you might call futuristic golf. So it's a welcome break, I guess you could say. But it will present its own challenges. The scores might not be as low as you think, because the ball can get away from you on these greens.
"Since it was built a long time ago, not a lot of earth was moved. It's the kind of course I grew up on. There's not as much trouble off the tee, but you can lose shots on the greens. You might not make a lot of big numbers, but it can bogey you to death. You're not as scared visually, but you have to be disciplined to put the ball in the right spots. You have to be efficient, especially with lag putting. You need to be tough mentally."
Experience wouldn't seem to be a bad thing, either. Especially when that includes hoisting trophies.
Admission is free . . . The first two rounds will be contested on the West and East courses, with the last two being held on the tougher East. The West is a par 72 measuring 6,750 yards. The East plays to a 71 and covers 7,061 . . . Golf Channel will provide 10 1/2 hours of live coverage . . . The purse is $550,000 . . . After 36 holes the cut will be low 70 and ties . . . This is the first time the PNC is being held in Pennsylvania . . . Hershey was the venue for the 1940 PGA Championship, when Byron Nelson beat Sam Snead, 1-up, in the closing match . . . The only Philly area golfer to win the championship was Ed Dougherty, of Linwood, Pa., in 1985.