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Omar Uresti found redemption through reflection

2017 PGA Proffesional Champion Omar Uresti found redemption through reflection

Omar Uresti’s moment of truth in the 2017 golf season happened in the third round of the 50th PGA Professional Championship. He didn’t have a club in hand. Uresti, a PGA Life Member from Austin, Texas, stood on the 10th tee at Crosswater Club in Sunriver, Oregon, awaiting a group in front to move. Uresti was 4-over-par after the front nine and floundering.

“I told my caddie the story of the 2015 PGA Cup when I played with Sean Dougherty,” recalls Uresti of his partner from Kansas City, Missouri. “We were three holes down in our four balls match against Great Britain & Ireland. Sean stopped me after we left the 15th green, looked me in the eye and asked,‘Do you know who you are? You’re (bleeping) Omar Uresti! Let’s go do this!’

“That woke me up. We won the next three holes to halve the match.”

Fast forward to Sunriver, and caddie Stein Swenson looked Uresti in the eye, saying: “OK, remember who you are.” That little talk sparked Uresti to finish 4-under on the back nine (for a 72) and go on to win the Championship the next day.

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In the final round, Uresti posted a 69 and forced a playoff with Dave McNabb of Newark, Delaware. Uresti then closed out McNabb with a par on the second playoff hole. 

Uresti’s banner season, in which he would go on to make the cut in the PGA Championship, also included an assist from a motivational book, “Living Life Off the Hook: Guiding Men Through the Wilderness,” by Brent Henderson.

“It became my little mantra,” says Uresti. “Think of the word, ‘TEA,’ as an acronym. That means keep good positive ‘Thoughts’; keep your ‘Emotions’ in check; and ‘Act’ accordingly. I read that book before the (PGA Professional) Championship.”

The path Uresti paved to golf began in his ownbackyard in Austin. At age 4, Lupe Uresti cut down a 7-iron for his son. Lupe also dug a hole and placed, a coffee can in the ground, giving his son a generous golf target.

“I soon figured it out that I could have more practice and could play back and forth by putting another coffee can in the ground,” recounts Uresti. He began playing regularly at Onion Creek Club at age 6 and fell in love with golf.

Lupe Uresti gave his son the fundamentals of the game, but didn’t mess with Omar’s golf swing. He left that up to legendary PGA Teaching Professional Harvey Penick, who then suggested Chuck Cook should be his next instructor.

“Chuck Cook gave me everything I needed to get started,” says Uresti of the 1996 PGA Teacher of the Year. “Later, I worked with (PGA Professionals) Butch Liebler and Randy Smith. They all made it fun.” During the 2017 PGA Championship, another renowned instructor was there to help.

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Two-time PGA Champion Dave Stockton assisted Uresti with his putting. “I’m friends with Dave’s son, Dave Jr.,” explains Uresti. “It was so great to have that kind of help that week. I feel blessed to have friends like that.” 

Mentors are a rite of passage for a golf professional, and PGA Member Jack Gaudion of Wales, Wisconsin, a former employee at Onion Creek, was there for Uresti. “Jack showed me shots around the green and played with me and my friend Todd Harbour,” says Uresti. “He competed with us and helped make us better.” Today, Gaudion owns four Wisconsin courses.

Uresti went on to play at the University of Texas, earning honorable mention All-America honors as a redshirt freshman. He was a third-team All-American in 1989-90, and joined the Nike Tour (now the Web.com Tour) after graduation. Uresti earned his first PGA Tour card in 1995 and maintained it for six years. He fluctuated between the former Nike Tour and PGA Tour for the rest of his career. He won twice on the Nike Tour.

A year removed from Sunriver, the 49-year-old Uresti reflects on winning a PGA Professional Championship, while he was dealing with personal issues off the course. He was going through a divorce, and his mother-in-law was stricken with cancer and would pass away in October. During the PGA Championship, his boyhood friend, Marco Martinez, also was in the final stages of his life due to cancer. Uresti dedicated his play in the PGA Championship to Martinez.

Needing a birdie on the par-4 18th hole at Quail Hollow Club to make the cut in the PGA Championship, Uresti hit a 2-hybrid to within 12 feet of the hole and made the putt. “It was a great feeling of accomplishment,” explains Uresti, who was on the 18th green Sunday with PGA Champion Justin Thomas to accept a crystal bowl as the Low PGA Club Professional.

Two days after the Championship, Martinez passed away.

“With so many things happening off the course,” says Uresti, father to son Omar Jr., and daughter Isabel, “it turned out to be a good year for me in golf.”

Winning a PGA Professional Championship didn’t come without its share of controversy. Uresti carried the PGA Life Member status and had not worked at a facility. He had 357 career tour starts under his belt.

“I totally understand where they’re coming from,” says Uresti of his critics. “I’ve always understood both sides of the story.”

Dougherty, now the PGA Head Professional at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, says he has also heard the critics of his former PGA Cup teammate.

“I support Omar 100 percent and also understand both sides of the argument,” points out Dougherty. “But it is not Omar’s fault; he’s playing within the rules. He doesn’t have a job at a facility; he does give lessons and has done everything that was set forth for him to be eligible.

“He is a great guy and represents the PGA of America and professional golf so well. I think he’s one of the best gentlemen I’ve ever met. When we played in the PGA Cup, it was amazing to see a guy focus like him and flip a switch. He’s a bulldog in every sense of the word.”

Today, Uresti continues to give junior lessons and free pointers to members at Onion Creek Club. He also hosts a fundraiser for The First Tee of Greater Austin, the Omar Uresti Invitational.

“I’ve been paying my dues to the PGA of America since 1993,” explains Uresti. “During all those years I traveled and played, I was in hundreds of pro-ams. I gave lots of tips to the amateurs. 

“One of the biggest things for the PGA of America is to promote the game. I’ve been promoting the game for as long as I can remember.”
 

This story originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of PGA Magazine.

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