Omar Uresti awakened Wednesday morning with a number in mind. If he could reach that, he thought, he stood a chance to impact the 50th PGA Professional Championship presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA.
The 48-year-old PGA Life Member from Austin, Texas, posted a 3-under-par 69, good enough to share the clubhouse lead and with that closing total he envisioned – 4-under-par 283 in the largest all-professional national championship. Just over a half-hour earlier, Dave McNabb of Newark, Delaware, had posted a 69 to match Uresti and force a playoff.
The duo, who began the day six strokes behind former Champion Rod Perry of Port Orange, Florida, each recorded five birdies and two bogeys before setting into the playoff.
They matched pars on No. 18, the first playoff hole, with McNabb sneaking in a nine-foot tying putt. On the 387-yard, par-4 10th hole, McNabb’s tee shot came to rest on a mound and Uresti landed his drive into a fairway bunker, from which his 109-yard approach shot flew 10 feet over the green.
McNabb followed by hitting his approach into a greenside bunker and then blasted out to six feet past the flagstick. Uresti using a 55-degree sand wedge, pitched to within a foot from the hole.
McNabb followed by missing his par putt to the right, and Uresti tapped in for the Walter Hagen Cup and a first-place prize of $50,000. He became the second-oldest PGA Professional Champion, behind only Sam Snead, who was 59 when he won in 1971.
“It wasn’t that easy today, but fortunately I was able to stay focused,” said Uresti. “I really worked hard to focus on that last one-foot putt. I tried to keep my emotions in check, and remembered to keep my head down on that last putt.”
One year ago, Uresti missed a tying putt to force a playoff with Rich Berberian Jr. in the Championship. This year, he said he didn’t have flashbacks.
What he did receive was an unexpected text message on his way to the course. His “old mentor,” PGA Professional Jack Gaudion of Wales, Wisconsin wrote, “You get to 4-under and it will be good enough to win.”
“Jack was a big help to me early in my career as has Chuck Cook (1996 PGA Teacher of the Year). They really helped me.” As Wednesday’s steady wind didn’t subside, Uresti found a second gear. He birdied the opening hole, then added birdies at Nos. 6, 7, 11 and 16, the latter a 14-footer. Third-round leader Perry struggled early with four front-nine bogeys to open the door, and came home with a 79, to end at even par 287. He finished alone in eighth place.
Uresti, who wore an orange shirt to “give me a feel that I was back home in Texas,” said that he was “enjoying the wind. I come from Texas and I like my chances when the wind is blowing.”Uresti is the second Southern Texas PGA Member to win the Championship and first since Tim Thelen (2000, ’03).
For McNabb, the final hour of regulation play was a rollercoaster and a near-miss. He made a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 15 to reach 5-under-par and hold the lead alone. But a bogey at 17 ended his charge.
“I’m proud of the way I played; I have no regrets,” said McNabb, the PGA Head Professional at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pennsylvania. “It was a great championship test. I hit the shots I needed to and my caddie did a great job of helping me around. I got great support here and from all my friends and members back home."
The challengers lined up early in the final round, with three-time Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Illinois, making the last run. But his approach shot to the 18th green sailed right into the fescue and just over the hazard line. He finished with a bogey and 73 to share third at 285 with Paul Claxton of Claxton, Georgia, who closed with a 71.
Defending Champion Berberian of Hooksett, New Hampshire, (71) shared fifth at 286 with Adam Rainaud of Chester, Connecticut (73); and Jamie Broce of Ottawa Hills, Ohio (74). The low 20 scorers earned exemptions into the 99th PGA Championship, Aug. 10-13, at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.