Omar Uresti, 52, is 5 feet 6 inches tall with a slight belly and signature sideburns. Last month, he punched his ticket to this year’s P.G.A. Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina by winning the P.G.A. Professional Championship. Uresti beat a field of 312 of the best club pros, teaching pros and life members in the P.G.A. of America — some half his age — to be one of 20 non-Tour pros to gain entry to the major.
Call it his second act. As a touring pro for 20 years, Uresti was the definition of a journeyman. He never won a PGA Tour event, but he won enough money to stick around.
“When I was on Tour in the ’90s and early 2000s, I never qualified for the P.G.A. Championship,” Uresti said. “I played in six U.S. Opens, but I never qualified for any other majors.”
This week marks his fifth P.G.A. Championship. At the 2017 event he had his best showing. While he finished 21 shots behind Justin Thomas, who won that year, he beat Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington — both major champions — and young stars like Matthew Fitzpatrick and Xander Schauffele.
Uresti’s days of elite competition seemed over in 2012. In his mid-40s, he no longer had playing privileges on the PGA Tour, and he was too young for the P.G.A. Tour Champions senior circuit. “I went into a little bit of a depression,” he said. “I didn’t play that much golf. I put on 20 pounds.”
Omar Uresti during a practice round at the 2018 P.G.A. Championship. His best showing came in 2017, when he finished 21 shots back.Credit…Brynn Anderson/Associated Press
He called a friend in the P.G.A.’s Texas office and learned he could reclassify himself as a P.G.A. Life Member. In doing that, he could enter local tournaments. “It saved me, to be able to keep competing,” he said.
His success has not been without controversy. Some club pros complain that he doesn’t have the work responsibilities, like running tournaments and giving lessons, that they do. But Uresti shakes it off.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
How did you beat a field of young club pros?
I worked really hard for a few weeks to get my swing a little better. I’d gotten really out of whack over the past four years. So I watched some old footage from Bay Hill in 1997, when I was leading going into the last day, and I saw how good my swing was. [Phil Mickelson shot seven under par in the final round to win- the Bay Hill Invitational.]
How do you hang in there with the long hitters?
At the 2017 P.G.A. Championship, I got paired with Rory McIlroy on Saturday. I average about 275 yards off the tee. Rory was hitting it 60 to 80 yards by me, cutting corners. On one hole, it was 285 to a fairway bunker. I barely got to it and had 220 yards to the green. Rory flew it over the bunker and had 100 yards left. But we both made par. That’s when I came up with my mantra: I’m going to straight them to death. I’m going to hit the fairway and hit the green and give myself some chances.
What are your plans for Kiawah?
I’ve never played it. I’m not sure what to do. It’s tight and windy.
What’s your day-to-day life like in Texas?
I grew up here at the Onion Creek Club in Austin, Texas. My dad worked three jobs at the time so we could become members and move out here. We joined in 1975 and moved here in 1976, when I was 7. My mom is 83. She lives with me. We take care of each other. When I’m in town, I get to see my kids. Omar Jr. is 16. My daughter, Izzie, is 14.
Why do you get so much criticism from other P.G.A. members?
I’m not affiliated with a club like they are. But I’m in talks with [Austin courses] Butler Park Pitch and Putt and Lions Municipal Golf Course. I’m talking to them about helping out and making some clinics for kids.
What does it take for a pro who is not grinding it out week after week to play at the highest level?
It takes a good frame of mind. I try to get out there every day and put in a couple of hours to keep working on my game.