Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the August 2017 print issue of Golfweek.
CHARLOTTE – Omar Uresti is a lightning rod for controversy, despite not breaking any rules.
The 49-year-old from Austin, Texas, competed in his third straight PGA Championship this week as a “club pro,” using a back-nine 32 on Friday to make the cut on his way to a T-73 finish.
He earned his spot into the field by winning the PGA Professional Championship, making him one of 20 club pros at Quail Hollow. But that’s the rub.
“They keep saying ‘club pro,’ and he’s the furthest thing from a club pro,” said Darrell Fuston, the director of golf at the Woodlands (Texas) Country Club and a member of the board of directors at the Southern Texas Section of the PGA of America.
Uresti is a former PGA Tour player who, after his Tour career fizzled out, found his way into local Southern Texas Section tournaments and eventually national qualifiers for the PGA Championship.
Uresti became an A-3 life member with the PGA of America after 20-plus years on the PGA Tour and paying annual PGA of America dues along the way. As an active life member, Uresti is eligible for the PGA Professional Championship. Keeping that active label involves paying dues and fulfilling credits by going to teaching seminars and section meetings, which Uresti has done.
It’s a payoff a long time coming.
“I didn’t really get any benefits from (paying dues) until I started playing in these events,” Uresti said.
Regardless, Uresti’s entry into the club pro category has caused a stir in the community. Uresti has taught junior golfers and helped out with First Tee fundraisers, but he is not a club professional anywhere.
He’s heard critics almost from the beginning. Uresti started competing in Southern Texas Section events in 2014, and after an early win got chastised by a section member for taking a spot from a working club pro.
In 2015, Uresti earned both of the section’s Tour exemptions (Valero Texas Open, Shell Houston Open). Later that year the Southern Texas Section disallowed life members from competing in its events (aside from the section championship, a PGA Professional Championship qualifier for which the section doesn’t control eligibility) unless they wished to do so in the 50-plus senior category.
Criticism from club pros about Uresti has grown more pronounced in the wake of June’s PGA Professional Championship win, which on top of a PGA Championship berth earned Uresti six starts in PGA Tour events in the following 12 months.
“They’re more mad at the rule, and they’re taking it out on me,” Uresti said.
Some, however, feel the presence of players such as Uresti burnishes the club pro brand.
J.J. Wood, a club pro who also competed in the 2017 PGA Championship, thinks Uresti has done nothing but benefit the golf community.
“In my opinion, the playing standards should be higher than they currently are,” said Wood, an instructor at the Golf Performance Group in Houston. “If you want to use the label golf professional, you should be held to a certain standard. If not, maybe we should change the label to golf business professional.”
Uresti recently started work as a money manager with The Solomon Group and will be a consultant for an upcoming golf venture. He also has his eyes on the PGA Tour Champions, as he turns 50 next August.
How to deal with this divisive issue in the meantime? Understand it for what it is. “Everybody’s a friend until they’re not,” Uresti said.