PGA Championship

Oak Hill won’t soon forget its weeklong Block party

May 21, 2023


Jeff Babineau

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – For a man who crossed the country from California to New York with a simple goal of just making the cut at the 105th PGA Championship, something he had not yet done in four previous attempts at this championship, Michael Block, PGA sure outdid himself.

The week already had been nothing short of magical for Block, 46, who is Head Golf Professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo and a 10-time Southern California PGA Player of the Year. After three level-par rounds of 70, he began Sunday tied for eighth, and playing alongside Rory McIlroy.

It seemed time to turn his ruby red slippers, no? It would have been understandable if Block finally blinked. He never did. Things just got better, actually. At the par-3 15th hole, Block launched a 7-iron to the heavens, much to the delight of the tens of thousands of fans at Oak Hill Country Club who had decided to adopt him.

Block’s ball would came straight down the flagstick, and tore up the hole as it found the bottom of the cup. Standing on the tee, Block knew he had hit a good shot, but figured he was probably 10 feet away. Then he wondered why McIlroy was walking up to him to hug him.

Hole-in-one on Sunday at the PGA? As goes the stamp on Block’s golf ball, “Why not?”

Block would shoot 1-over 71 to finish at 1-over 281 for the week, trying for 15th. His biggest check as a professional previously had been $75,000 he won for capturing the 2014 PGA Professional Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.; on Sunday, his haul was $288,333.33, which made the chant around the 18th green at Oak Hill all that more dangerous: “Beers on Block!” the crowd exclaimed in unison.

To say that Block had a great time at the 105th PGA is to say that Popeye might like spinach. It went so far beyond his dreams and expectations. Even alongside McIlroy, Block was the prohibitive crowd favorite when he got to the first tee. When he made an incredible up-and-down from left of the 18th green, his 8-foot putt for par tumbling in, the crowd responded with thunderous ovation usually reserved for a champion.

Michael Block, the people’s champion. Why did they invest themselves so heavily into a 46-year-old Club Professional who once went to the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying School but knew that life as a tour pro was not for him?

“I’m like the new John Daly, but I don’t have a mullet and I’m not as big as him yet,” Block joked.

Tommy Aycock (1974) and Lonnie Nielsen (1986), each of whom tied for 11th, own the top finishes for Club Professionals since 1970. Block’s performance (top 15) earned him a spot in next year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla (it will be his sixth), and also earned him a special phone call when he finished up play on Sunday.

On the phone was the tournament director of the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, the PGA Tour event set for Fort Worth, Texas, this week. The tournament wished to give Block its final sponsor exemption into the field. Block accepted.

So, for the second time this week, Block scrambled to change flights. He can’t wait to celebrate with his membership back home in California, but Block is now bound for Texas this week. The Michael Block story takes on a new chapter.

“These guys (the Club Professionals), they want to get here, but when they get here, they want to play,” said PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh as the 18th hole ceremony where Block would earn his crystal bowl for Low Club Professional was about to begin. “It’s a fairytale, right? I think we’re all so tired about talking about money (in golf), and now we get to talk about the game again, the purity of it, the joy of it.

“He’s 46 years old, an everyman … I think it’s going to get him working a little harder.”

It was McIlroy who told Block that his shot at 15 had finished in the hole.

Block had no idea. Block’s reply was, “Seriously?”

“He had to tell me five times that I made it,” Block said. “So it was a pretty cool experience to have Rory be telling me that I made a hole-in-one in front of God knows how many people that were supporting me.”

Said McIlroy, "The atmosphere out there, playing with Michael, was unbelievable. We both got a amazing support, but you know, he got unbelievable support, understandably so, being in this position as a club pro and playing so well and, you know, competing into the latter stages of a major championship.

"It was really impressive. It was nice to go out there and share the course with him for 18 holes."

Hey, Michael Block, you went out and impressed Rory McIlroy on Sunday.

For Block, it was just that sort of week.