Club Pros Ready for PGA Champ Berths

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PGA of AmericaVERONA, N.Y. -- The tournament has a new name -- the Walter Hagen Cup -- but the prize remains the same.
 
A field of 312 club professionals will tee off Thursday at Turning Stone Casino with a lot at stake in the first round of the PGA Professional National Championship. The top 20 finishers after 72 holes earn a berth in the PGA Championship in August, six exemptions to PGA Tour events and the winner takes home a check of nearly $70,000 from the $500,000 purse.
 
By eliminating the Regional Championship qualifier, the PGA board of directors streamlined the process. Under the old format and previous name -- the PGA Club Professional Championship -- players were required to miss nearly a month from their regular jobs.
 
The event, which began in 1968, has been used by title winners such as Sam Snead, Bob Rosburg, Don Massengale, Larry Gilbert and Bruce Fleisher as a springboard to greater things on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour.
 
Mike Small, golf coach at Illinois, is the defending champion. The last repeat winner was Gilbert in 1981-82.
 
The Golf Channel will have four-day coverage, beginning Thursday at 4:00 p.m. EDT