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Controversial 'club pro' earns coveted spot in PGA Championship

Omar Uresti

Omar Uresti won a spot in the PGA Championship by winning the PGA Professional Championship held at PGA Golf Club on April 27, 2021 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Montana Pritchard/PGA of America)

Part of the appeal of the PGA Championship is that club pros — the guys who give lessons at a golf course near you — can tee it up right next to superstars such as Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau.

The top 20 finishers in the annual PGA Professional Championship earn spots in the PGA Championship, one of golf's four majors set for May 20-23 at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island.

For example, Matt Bova, head golf pro at the Country Club of Charleston, competed in the PGA Professional Championship last week in Port St. Lucie, Florida, and survived daily cuts to make it to the final round before finishing tied for 48th.

The PGA of America calls the top 20 finishers in that event "The Team of 20," and those 20 will get to play alongside reigning PGA champ Collin Morikawa and other stars at Kiawah.

The problem is that not all club pros are created equal.

Omar Uresti, a 52-year-old veteran of the PGA Tour, won the PGA Professional Championship for the second time last week in Florida and has now qualified for the PGA five times through the PGA Professional Championship. He is not a "club pro" in the sense that he is not affiliated with any club as a head pro, teaching pro or any other kind of club pro.

He doesn't give formal lessons for pay or fold sweaters in the pro shop like many other club pros.

Uresti is eligible for the tournament as a dues-paying Class A PGA pro who has not made more than 10 starts on professional tours in the last 12 months. Uresti earned almost $4 million in 377 starts on the PGA Tour, though he never won a tournament or qualified for the PGA Championship as a touring pro. But he's played just four events on pro tours in the past year, keeping him eligible for the PGA Professional Championship.

Many observers feel that Uresti's participation in the PGA Professional Championship goes against the spirit of the tournament, which until 2006 was known as the PGA Club Professional Championship and is designed to give those club pros a shot at the big time.

"It certainly is controversial," said Scott Glaze, head golf pro at The Links at Stono Ferry. "It's the national championship for club professionals, and I think the key words there are 'club professional.' There's more to being a club pro than just playing golf. It's teaching the game, it's growing the game and developing new players, and that's why I love being a golf professional.

"The majority of the guys playing down in Florida were club pros like me, working 40 to 60 hours a week and wishing we could play and practice a little more. So when someone comes in and just kind of rolls the competition who is a full-time player, it can be frustrating."

Uresti has heard the critics, and of course he is playing by the rules set up by the PGA of America.

"A lot of people don't know what I do on the side," he said after his 2017 victory in the PGA Professional Championship. "Not that I'm a full-time shop guy. But I have some kids and juniors who I teach on the side. I give free pointers to members at (the course) where I play and practice. I host a fundraiser for The First Tee of Greater Austin, the Omar Uresti Invitational. I play in other fundraisers.

“I’ve been paying dues to the PGA of America since 1993. During all those years I did play and travel, I played in hundreds of pro-ams. I gave lots of tips to these amateurs. One of the biggest things in the PGA of America is to promote the game. I’ve been promoting the game for as long as I can remember.”

In 2017, a PGA spokesman explained the eligibility of Uresti and other players like him.

“The PGA of America has a diversified membership, which includes former and current Tour players," he said. "Omar is eligible to compete in our PGA Professional Championship because PGA Tour pros are eligible for PGA of America ‘Class A’ membership.

“He played more than 20 years on Tour. Once he was no longer playing on Tour, like any other PGA Member who had 20+ active years of PGA Membership, Omar became eligible for ‘Life Member-Active’ (and) therefore eligible to compete in the PGA Professional Championship, and in addition, hold PGA office and vote."

It's a rule that some feel should be changed, Glaze said.

"We all wish we could be playing and practicing more and compete more at that high level," he said. "I don't know if unfair is the right word, but it certainly seems that way to a lot of people."

Here is the "Team of 20" for the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course:

Omar Uresti, Austin, Texas, PGA Life Member; Frank Bensel Jr., Purchase, N.Y., Century Country Club, N.Y.; Ben Cook, Caldeonia, Mich., Yankee Springs Golf Course; Larkin Gross, Center Cross, Va., Springfield Golf and Country Club; Ben Polland, Manhasset, N.Y.; Shooting Star of Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Stuart Smith, Reno, Nevada, Somersett Country Club.

Alex Beach, Rye, N.Y., Westchester Country Club; Danny Balin, Rockville, Md., Fresh Meadow Country Club; Brett Walker, Ukiah, California, Sunnybrook Golf Club; Tyler Collet, Vero Beach, Fla., John's Island Club; Peter Ballo, Samford, Conn., Silvermine Golf Club; Joe Summerhays, Syracuse, Utah, Eagle Lake Golf Course; Derek Holmes, Cottage Grove, Minn., PXG Minneapolis.

Brad Marek, Berkeley, Calif., Corica Park; Rob Labritz, Pound Ridge, N.Y., GlenArbor Golf Club; Tim Pearce, Birmingham, Michigan, Birmingham Country Club; Mark Geddes, Coronado, Calif., Coronado Golf Course; Patrick Rada, Jupiter, Fla., McArthur Golf Club; Greg Koch, Orlando, Ritz-Carlton Golf Club; Sonny Skinner, Sylvester, Ga., PGA Life Member.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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