As a Morning Read subscriber, you might hold a perception of a PGA of America professional that varies from other golfers’ views, depending on how you participate in the game. Many of you are members at private clubs or frequently play public-access golf courses. You identify a PGA professional as the man or woman who is promoting and teaching golf where you play. You also know that many golf courses could not function without the help of the assistant golf professionals who spend countless hours behind the scenes doing all sorts of important jobs.
Many of you who take golf lessons are working with a PGA teaching or coaching instructor. These men and women are an important segment of the PGA’s membership. But, there are many more who work in golf and who are PGA professionals.
A growing number of golf-facility general managers are PGA members. Driving-range professionals, college golf coaches, golf administrators, course architects, superintendents, media, manufacturer sales reps, tournament coordinators, rules officials and club fitters or repair specialists are all examples of jobs in golf that are eligible for PGA membership.
The PGA of America’s leadership made a wise decision 20 years ago by allowing its members to do more than run golf courses and teach golf. The change expanded the influence of PGA men and women in the golf industry and, in doing so, increased job opportunities.
When Omar Uresti, a former PGA Tour player, won the PGA of America’s Professional Championship several weeks ago, he stirred up some controversy. Uresti, 49, has not won in 357 PGA Tour starts and became eligible to play in the club pro championship, as it once was known, because he had played more than 20 years on Tour and qualified for PGA “life member active” status. Uresti and other former Tour players must not have more than 10 combined starts on designated professional tours in a calendar year. Uresti had played in none before the PGA PC.
Many rank-and-file PGA members were upset that Uresti was even allowed to play in their championship because he is not employed in a traditional golf job. His victory in the PGA PC earned him $50,000 and a spot in this week’s PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C. Uresti is a member of the Southern Texas PGA Section. He teaches occasionally at Onion Creek Club in Austin. On the Monday after the PGA Championship, he is scheduled to host a fundraiser for the local First Tee chapter. He is focusing on full-time employment with the Solomon Group, an Austin-based financial-planning company. All of those activities are acceptable with the current PGA of America tournament regulations.
Uresti has heard the criticism from his fellow PGA members. “I totally understand. I don’t work in a golf shop. But, I have been paying my PGA dues for 20 years and never really had any benefits until I became a life member. Everybody has their own opinion. I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s more about the rule than me.”
Uresti won twice in 210 starts on what today is known as the Web.com Tour. He never played in the Masters or the British Open. His best finish in a major was 45th, in the 1995 U.S. Open. He has missed the cut in his two previous PGA Championships, in 2015 and ’16. He missed the cut in his only PGA Tour start this season, at the recent Barbasol Championship. In a lot of ways, Uresti is a great Cinderella story this week at the PGA (tee times: http://bit.ly/1yf8r8M).
PGA professionals who are bent out of shape about Uresti winning their national championship and taking one of the 20 club-professional spots in the PGA Championship should be reminded that the list of former PGA Professional Championship winners includes Bob Rosburg, Sam Snead, Don Massengale, Rives McBee, Bruce Fleisher, Sammy Rachels and Mike Small – all former PGA Tour players who blazed the trail for Uresti.
“It would mean a great deal if I could compete in a major at this point in my career,” Uresti said. “Unfortunately, the course is super long. This week will let me know if I can still do it. I’d like to try the Champions Tour next year, but I also look forward to starting my financial career.”
This week might answer a lot of questions for Omar Uresti, but any questions about his legitimacy in the PGA should be put to rest.
Ted Bishop, who owns and operates The Legends Golf Club in Franklin, Ind., and is the author of “Unfriended,” was president of the PGA of America in 2013-14. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @tedbishop38pga