Provided by the Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) Athletic Department
San Antonio, Texas -- Aaron Flores is almost there. In one week, he tees off at the U.S. Amatuer Public Links Championship. Not long after that — probably in September — he will join the Adams Pro Tour, a springboard, he believes, to the PGA Tour.
Once Flores turns pro, he does not intend to blend in. He plans to stand out. "I don't want to just compete at the pro level," he says. "I want to win. I want to win multiple times. I know what it is to win at the college level. I know what it is to have success nationally."
At Our Lady of the Lake University, Flores won five tournaments. He finished second at the 2013 NAIA championship tournament and won first-team All-American honors. He rose from the barrio near OLLU to become a champion golfer and a 4.0 student. At the end of his college career, he was named Big Blue Top Saint, an award OLLU gives to its top academic and athletic student.
Flores, 23, knows how to excel under pressure. Early on at OLLU, he wound up on academic probation. Fearing he would be unable to play golf, Flores turned himself into a straight-A student.
He faced pressure at the June qualifying tournament for the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. In a field of 40 at River Crossing Club in Spring Branch, only the winner would qualify. The 36-hole tournament began at 6 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. "It was definitely a battle of endurance," Flores says.
Flores shot a 2-under 70 and trailed the leader by one stroke after the first round. He fired a 66 in the second round to win by five.
"I was playing at another level," he says. "I was in a zone where you don't know where you are at the moment. I didn't know what I was shooting until the 17th hole. I looked at the scorecard and saw I had birdied five consecutive holes.
"It was one of those special moments you strive for all the time but know it won't happen all the time. That's what I practice for when I get in those situations. I wanted to bury the field. I didn't want to worry about the field catching me."
More pressure looms. The 89th U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship will be contested for the last time July 14-19 at Sand Creek Station Golf Course in Newton, Kan.The winner receives an invitation to The Masters.
The tournament has launched the careers of many former PGA stars, among them: U.S. Open champions Tommy Bolt, Ken Venturi and Ed Furgol; Masters winner George Archer; British Open champion Tony Lema; and PGA champions Dave Marr and Bobby Nichols.
Each of these golfers from the 1950s and 1960s played in an era when the Amateur Public Links attracted the non-country club set: bus drivers and bartenders, firemen and waiters. In 1979, the once-exclusive U.S. Amateur opened its tournament to all amateurs, even those who were not private club members.
In February 2013, the USGA announced the demise of the Public Links championship, saying, it no longer served its original purpose. Now here comes a golfer who fits that purpose.
Flores comes from a low-income neighborhood. He competed against country club golfers. He wrote to Division I schools seeking a scholarship. He didn't get a bite. He wound up at OLLU after the golf coach called while he and his family were eating pizza on Commerce Street. Today, as he prepares for his next tournament, Flores earns minimum wage at a pro golf shop.
"To be in the last Public Links championship ever held is big in my heart," Flores says. "Not only am I able to represent San Antonio as the lone qualifier from the city, I'll be able to play against some of the best amateurs in the country."