Chatting with America’s Caddie: Omar Uresti on PGA controversy and having Michael Collins on his bag

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Omar Uresti has gone from an obscure, little-known PGA Tour player to a full controversial PGA Professional in a very short amount of time. But through everything that’s happened to him, Uresti’s just a guy who wants to play golf for a living.

Full disclosure: My journey into the professional golf world all started because of Omar. At a Tuesday practice round in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in 1998, he struck up and conversation with me on the 11th tee and we’ve been friends ever since. We’ve laughed together (a lot) — and we’ve cried together, too. This day we just talked about the journey, the surprise haters and how a 52-year-old short-hitter keeps beating kids literally less than half his age.

Collins: We’ve known each other for a long time and had lots of adventures together, but I’ve never gotten to ask you this … what is your favorite memory?

Uresti: There’s a couple of them, but I don’t know if I can tell ’em?

Collins: You know what, skip to something in the top 5.

Uresti: Probably the first week we met at Harbour Town. My brother gives you the bag [on Friday] after the round and says, “Here, get him going hitting some balls.” You’re standing there and a player says to you, “Hey, can you come check this out?” (Caddie note: Apparently I looked like a veteran caddie.) You come back a minute or two later and I said, “What did Tom Watson want?”

Collins: He wanted me to look at his swing.

Uresti: You didn’t know anything about golf, and here he is asking you about his swing. You thought he was talking about the shape of his golf club!

Collins: How many times now have you won the PGA Professional Championship?

Uresti: Twice.

Collins: And didn’t you win the Senior PGA Professional Championship as well?

Uresti: Yes. I hold both of them now.

Collins: Wait, how many people have ever done that? Have both titles at the same time?

Uresti: That’s a good question. I literally have no idea.

According to ESPN Stats & Information: Four players have won both titles at some point, but Uresti is the first to hold both titles at the same time!

Collins: What made you decide to go this route from the PGA Tour?

Uresti: Well, I basically lost [playing] status after 2012. I had no status on the Korn Ferry. I wasn’t really getting any starts. I got pretty down in the dumps … put on like 20 pounds. After about two years of that, I started trying to think, “It’s time to start trying to get ready for the PGA Tour Champions.” I knew there was some category that I could get in that would allow me to play in PGA of America tournaments and my section events. So I called Mike Ray, who was president of our section [in South Texas].

“Mike, what can I do to be able to play the section (events)?”
He’s like, “Well, how long have you been paying your dues?”
“Actually 21 years.”
“Well, you can change your status to a life member, pay your dues and start playing in your home section.”

I was like, that’s great, you know, so I did that. The first tournament I finished like third. So originally I had no clue what I was doing or how I was going about things. Then, of course, after two years playing in our section, a couple of guys got perturbed.

Collins: Why do you think that is? Where else were you playing?

Uresti: I wasn’t. I was getting in two or three PGA Tour events a year because of my status.

Collins: What about the Korn Ferry Tour?

Uresti: So I only got in those when I was 48 and 49 because of the categories. I only got in a couple events a year.

Collins: Then why do you think when you started playing PGA events guys were getting so mad?

Uresti: Well, it’s funny because there were a few of them that were playing that were getting mad. It seemed like the ones that weren’t doing the playing were the ones that raised the bigger stink. But in my section there were actually a couple of competitive players that rose a stink, and one of them was a former Tour player by the name of Brad Lardon.

Collins: Which doesn’t make any sense because he was basically in the same category as you [having been a former Tour player who turned to PGA professional events], isn’t he?

Uresti: Their biggest issue? That I wasn’t working [as a head professional]. I also didn’t go through all the business classes that they had to. But I wasn’t required to. They felt like I was working on my game all the time. Which at the time, I really wasn’t.

Collins: Why not?

Uresti: Because I was depressed. Home life drastically changed. But I was still trying to be a father. The kids were important. But after about a year and a half, my section voted “life members” were not eligible to play in the open-age division.

Collins: What does that mean?

Uresti: That means I couldn’t play in their four majors that they have in the section. So I couldn’t play against all the young guys if I wanted to. Except for our section championship, because that was the qualifier for the national. At that time, for the national PGA of America, I was still eligible to play in those tournaments. And then about a year ago, they changed the rule so all future guys like myself, if they want to become a life member and play in the national tournament, now have to go through the business class. But I’m grandfathered in.

Collins: They created a rule because of you, to stop guys from playing in their events. That’s crazy. Did you ever consider becoming a teaching professional?

Uresti: I did consider it and I did start teaching a couple of kids, some good junior golfers. Then all of a sudden my tournament schedule picked up a little bit and I’m like, OK, I don’t have time for this. Actually started getting in four or five [PGA] Tour events. And because I kept making at least one cut during the year, I kept staying right where I was, where I would get in four or five tournaments. Then I was playing section events. Then I would go to Florida in the winter and play the winter series in December. And then start playing the winter championships in January/February.

Collins: And playing golf was still your sole source of income?

Uresti: Yes. And now I have some retirement [money] coming in from the Tour — but it’s not much because one-fourth of it goes to child support and one-fourth of it goes to the ex-(wife).

Collins: How does a 52-year-old man play against guys half his age who hit it … how far past you?

Uresti: Easy 40-50 yards.

Collins: Which means 70 yards for a couple of them. How are you beating them? You had a 7-shot lead going into the final day!

Uresti: A lot of it is experience, but also game management. And you know, ball control. It gets a little windy down there in Port St. Lucie, Florida. I don’t hit it as high as they do. I can hit the low shot, where a lot of them can’t. It’s a little harder for a tall person to hit a low shot. So being 5-foot-6 kind of helps me keep the ball down a little bit.

Collins: I never thought about that. So for tall guys, it’s harder for them to learn how to flight it?

Uresti: Yeah. Just because they’re hitting so steep down onto the ball because they are so much taller.

Collins: What’s the hardest thing for you about competing against these kids?

Uresti: Probably just what my body will allow me to do. If it will allow me to swing the way I want to. Right now, and lately, it really hasn’t been. Not that I’m hurt or anything, it’s just, I guess I’m not quite as flexible. For some reason, when I swing the club, it just, I don’t know. I grip up it too tight and I get too tense or something. It’s not quite as good as I’d like it. But I know I’ve learned how to make it work.

Collins: So is it strange to play in a tournament where the biggest prize is that you get to say, “Oh s—, now I’ve got to go play [the PGA Championship at] Kiawah.”

Uresti: Yeah!

Collins: But you know what I’m saying. You’re going to be playing against Rory [McIlroy] and Bryson [DeChambeau] and all these dudes that are killers on the course. What’s the motivation?

Uresti: I was really motivated for this year just because I haven’t played well in the PGA Championship the last couple of years. And the other reason was I’ve never played Kiawah. So I feel like it was a great opportunity to play it. Of course, now that I’m going it’s kind of like the same way I thought about [the upcoming U.S. Open Open at] Torrey Pines. I’m like, you know, this can be a really long, hard golf course for me, you know? So I’m going to try and make the best of it and just try to enjoy it as much as possible. My brother will be on the bag, so that’ll help. But I just wanted to play Kiawah and I just don’t know if I’d ever come do it on my own without playing a tournament.

Collins: So this was a bucket list check mark? What other courses are on your bucket list?

Uresti: I’m 52 years old and I’ve never played Cypress [Point].

Collins: As many times as you’ve played Pebble Beach for the AT&T Pro-Am, that’s crazy.

Uresti: I’ve never played Augusta [National]. Only been to England once, and it was to play the PGA Cup matches. I didn’t have time to travel. So I still haven’t played other great courses in Europe, like St. Andrews. Maybe one of these days soon after COVID-19.

Collins: What would be a realistic dream week for you at the PGA Championship?

Uresti: A dream week there would be … I mean, it’s so hard for me to win, so … just anything in the top 30 would be a dream week. Even making the cut would be great. I made the cut in 2017 at Quail Hollow, which was really long. But I scrambled my booty off the first two days to make the cut. That would be it, I guess.

Collins: So many people who’ve never met you or even spoken to you have opinions about you. I know because I’ve argued with some of them. What would you want people to know about you and this pro golf journey you’re still on?

Uresti: I always like to think of myself as a pretty good guy. Everything that I’ve done to be able to play in these in the PGA of America tournaments has been within the rules. By no means did I expect, especially when I started competing in these, because of the where my game and my mind were, did I expect it to be this good or for me to be the successful at this. I just wanted to compete. Yeah, I knew I couldn’t compete on the PGA Tour. I knew I couldn’t compete on the Korn Ferry Tour. I didn’t have the money to go play the mini tours and pay a $1,000 or $1,500 entry fee. This allowed me to compete [and] hopefully get on the PGA Tour Champions within the next year or two. I paid my dues for over 20 years, and I did not take advantage of any of the benefits.

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