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In golf, most 72-hole scripts are chock-full of adversity, doubt and/or stress. And the best golf stories, to be told years later, provide ample plot twists that eventually render championship memories.
So it was for Omar Uresti (276), who limped home with a closing 76, yet won the 2021 PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, by three shots over runner-up Frank Bensel Jr. (279).
Ben Cook (281), Larkin Gross (283) and Ben Polland (284) finished solo third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
For three days, Uresti was comfortable. He was back at his second home, PGA Golf Club, where he’d won four times in the last 16 months. He’d already set a 54-hole scoring record this week for a national championship that began in 1968.
Uresti was playing with the wind at his back, perhaps not literally, but figuratively.
A PGA Life Member from Austin, Texas, Uresti started par-bogey-double bogey-bogey on the Wanamaker Course’s first four holes. That was a slow start by any standard, but especially for Uresti, who had been bogey-free on the Wanamaker’s first nine holes in rounds two and three (he’d played the Ryder Course in the opening round).
“On the range, the swing did not feel good,” said Uresti, a two-time All American at the University of Texas. “Once I got on the golf course, on the first tee, I felt fairly relaxed. The putter was really off all day long. I think that was the biggest issue. I just did not make the same putts I did the first three days.”
Six straight pars on Nos. 5-10 steadied Uresti’s ship to a degree, but a bogey on 11 coincided with Bensel’s 30-foot birdie on 13.
Suddenly, a once formidable 7-shot lead dwindled to two.
That Bensel, a PGA Assistant Professional from Purchase, New York, made a push was a bit of a surprise, but not a shock. He led the Championship after an opening 65 on the Ryder Course and trailed Uresti by only a shot at the 36-hole mark. But his 75 on Tuesday was as ill-timed as Uresti’s third-round 65 was opportune. The result: a 10-stroke swing and an 11-shot deficit.
Undeterred, Bensel rattled off four birdies in his initial 10 holes. A bogey on No. 14 halted his momentum, but a birdie-birdie sequence on 15 and 16 heaped more pressure on Uresti.
The 556-yard, par-5 13th was again golden for Uresti, whose birdie there was his first of the day and his third in as many days on the hole.
Like Bensel, Larkin Gross, a PGA Assistant Professional from Center Cross, Virginia, made his own charge. He started slowly, but a trio of birdies on 7, 12 and 13 cast him within shouting distance for a hot minute, yet most of that good work was undone with a double on the 14th.
Bensel’s last gasp came and went on the 18th, which he bogeyed. Almost at the same moment, Uresti birdied 16 and the lead doubled to four.
“At the turn, if he came back any more (I’d have a shot),” said Bensel, who will advance to his third career 2021 PGA Championship at The Ocean Course in May. “It’s tough to play with a big lead, so I just wanted to keep going, keep playing well and making big putts. But it wasn’t enough.”
Uresti did bogey 17, but by then, the result was certain.
“Relief,” said Uresti, when asked for his prevailing emotion after holeing out on the 18th. “That’s the biggest thing. I’m just very pleased to hang on.”
With two hands firmly on the Walter Hagen Cup, Uresti is the sixth player to win multiple PGA Professional Championships.
Uresti 一 who won the 2017 PPC at Sunriver (Oregon) Resort in a playoff 一 joins Larry Gilbert (1981, 1982, 1991), Mike Small (2005, 2009, 2010), Roger Watson (1974, 1975), Tim Thelen (2000, 2003) and Matt Dobyns (2012, 2015) on the talented list of multiple winners.
“There are so many great names on (the Walter Hagen Cup). It’s all hard to imagine really,” said Uresti, who is (again) the second-oldest PGA Professional Champion, behind only Sam Snead, who was 59 when he won in 1971.
The low 20 scorers earned exemptions into the 2021 PGA Championship, May 20-23, at Kiawah Island (South Carolina) Golf Resort’s Ocean Course.