The PGA championship is among the most overrated events in sports. Its field is weaker than most weekly tour events, because its one unique element is inviting two dozen or so golfers who cannot possibly win. There is a format that would give it flair and distinction - a return to match play - and the proper people ought to be applying proper pressure in the proper places to make the change.

A generation ago, before golfers could make more money pitching clothes than pitching from the rough, before the country thought a chunky teenager name Jack Nicklaus would amount to much, match play was held in special regard, in fact the foundation of the PGA championship.

It is man vs. man with every shot critical each day instead of the field moving into position for an hour's worth of drama the final hour of the final day, as is the case with stroke play. Match play might not be the most pure way to determine a champion, but it seems the only way for the PGA title to remain "major."

That would give each of the current grand-slam events something unique, the tradition and pomp of the Masters, the game returning close to home during the British Open allowing every low-handicapper a chance in the U.S. Open and the top pros going at one another head to head for a week in the PGA.

Nearly all of competitive golf, with its exotic presses and such, is match play. Yet no major match-play tournament in the United States exists beyond the amateur level. If the PGA refuses to switch, the World Series of Golf ought to seize the advantage.

Ironically, the PGA switching from match play to stroke play in 1958 is credited with being a major reason for its emergence as a major tournament. With the risk of a draw such as Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Gary Player losing to a DeWitt Weaver in the first round, excellent courses were cautious about supporting the PGA championship.

Now the courses for the PGA championships - Oakmont, Congressional, Oakland Hills, Southern Hills - are more interesting than the championship itself. Ironically, the PGA championship does not have the best pro golfers. That honor belongs to the Tournament Players Championship.

Two reasons stand far above all others in resistance to the return to match play for any major championship - television and the players, most of whom agree with what Bobby Jones called it," a glorified dice game."

"Stroke play is the purest way to determine a champion," said Tom Watson.

"Match play had it's place in golf." said Tom Weiskopf, "but the proper way is stroke play."

"A fine way to play golf, said Joe Inman, "but not the best way."

The only way I'd like to see match play is if there could be some mystique to it," said Johnny Miller. "It would have to be played on absolutely the best course in the world like the Open and PGA. And if you could get the proper pairings, say, seed the players, you'd have a wonderful tournament."

Television's public argument is the risk of a blowout final, the winner wrapping up the championship before the two players got to the camera holes. In fact, television now has the capacity to cover all 18 holes. What TV truly fears is DeWitt Weaver and John Schroeder.

Those are vaguely familiar names, right? In truth, they are two of the three winners (the other was Nicklaus) of the last major match-play tournament held in the country, from 1971 through 1973. If all pro golf were match instead of medal play. Weaver would not have quit the tour for a club job.

"I could always hit it farth and usually get it closer to the hole," said Weaver, who made the cut here this week. "But the putter gave me.

"I could always hit it farther and usually get it $61.000.

"But I'd have to admit that me vs. Phil Rodgers for the championship and Ken Stili vs. Bruce Crampton for third I won none matches and lost but two. That ain't too bad."

Dow Finsterwald lost in the finals of the last match-play PGA championship and won the first stroke-play PGA championship. He is not anxious to see a return to match play.

"I can see your point, that the variety in format in the majors would be good," he said, "but club sponsors are gun-shy. I believe."

"There's nothing in the wind," said Joe Dey, who has done as much behind the scenes as anyone to bring order and logic to golf over the years. "And it's a shame. The game started as a match-play game. But it lacks player support. They just don't like walking off the course before the 18th hole."

Or seeing their reputations tarnished now and then by the immensely talented young players choosing golf as their livelihood.

So it's a tough sell. Gold is not popular enough to stand pat and yet is popular enough for the major obstacles to match play to be overcome.

With a few possible exceptions. Weiskopf and Andy Bean being two, the great stroke-play golfers also would excel at match play. Nicklaus would not diminish in strength. Hale Irwin and Ben Crenshaw might even be better.

A stroke-play tournament often becomes matched play in the final moments of the final round, the most recent classic example being Watson's final holes against Nicklaus in the '77 British Open. The time is ripe to encourage that sort of drama for more than a few minutes.