It’s been 12 years in the making, but Michael Allen is returning to the PGA Championship this week thanks in part to Ernie Els, who will be missing in action due to a freak knee injury.
“You never want to see anybody get hurt, especially a great guy like Ernie Els,’’ said Allen, the longtime Scottsdale pro. “But when Ernie got hurt (three weeks ago), I got a call right away from a buddy of mine who said something like: ‘Did you hear about it? Ernie blew out his knee and he’s out, so you’re in. You’re playing in the PGA.’ ’’
Chances are Allen would have gotten in anyway, as he was 71st on the money list that takes the top 70 dating back through the calendar year from the last PGA Championship. But when Els hurt the knee while tubing behind a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea, Allen officially took his place.
“Oh, yeah, I’m sure I would have gotten in, being the No. 71 guy,’’ said Allen, whose combined winnings during that one-year span were approximately $1.1 million. “But this kind of made it easy and took a little of the pressure out of (making the 156-man field).’’
The 46-year-old Allen has played in only one PGA Championship despite playing on and off on the PGA and Nationwide tours since 1990. The last time he played in the season’s final major was in 1993 when it was held at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio.
“I know that it’s the smallest of the majors, but it’s a big deal to me,’’ said Allen, who holds the dubious distinction of playing nine years in the big leagues while going back to qualifying school nine times.
“Really, to make any major championship is huge for me, because I haven’t played in that many (nine total). And being a little older, and with the chances running out, I think I look forward to the opportunity even more than before.’’
This will be Allen’s second major of 2005, as he was among the leaders at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 before falling back in the pack on the weekend (tie for 67th). He decided to play at the B.C. Open the week of the British Open and came within a shot or two of making that tournament his first win ever on the PGA Tour.
But a stranger-than-fiction thing happened on the par-3 17th hole, as Allen — armed with a one-shot lead with one hole to play — actually whiffed his second shot from deep rough.
“I never touched the ball on that shot, so it was a pretty good bogey,’’ said the good-natured Allen, who made a downhill, 20-foot putt that eventually earned him a tie for sixth. “I guess it wasn’t meant to be, because the weirdest thing was, that was the only spot on the entire golf course that had deep rough.’’
Allen hasn’t played since, despite still needing about $130,000 to $150,000 to keep his card for next season. He currently stands 109th on the money list with $496,129.
“I just thought I needed to take some time off and spend it with my wife (Cynthia) and girls (Christy, 11; Michelle, 9), and maybe rest up for my last nine events’’ he said of his recent extended vacation to southern California. “The way I look at it: One solid week, and I’m in (for 2006).’’
Better yet, earn the money this week in what Allen calls “my best chance in a major.’’
“Even though I’ve only played once in the last five weeks, I’m playing well,’’ he said. “And the PGA is the kind of tournament that lets a journeyman like me win every once in a while.
“All I know is, it’s sure nice to have the chance, which beats the heck out of the alternative.’’
Yeah, ask Ernie Els.