A few days have passed since the PGA Championship, and I still can’t get the Michael Block story out of my head.
It’s so easy to be cynical in the current sports climate; reading any number of headlines will create that response. Leagues act in bad faith; athletes behave badly off the field, or in less-than-stellar fashion on it; owners demand public money for new stadiums, then refuse to spend big to build a winner, and on and on and on.
And yet, golf might inspire the most cynicism of any sport, at least for its ardent followers. The LIV/PGA Tour schism doesn’t have a new ugly headline every week, but the entire situation seems destined to stay at a low, noticeable and uncomfortable simmer for the foreseeable future.
Things get closer to boiling at majors, where LIV players are welcome, and have so far acquitted themselves well. A healthy Brooks Koepka took control of this year’s PGA Championship with back-to-back 66s on Friday and Saturday, and held off Viktor Hovland to win his third PGA and fifth major overall.
There was some tension, and there were questions about how much Koepka’s win legitimized LIV, but that wasn’t really the story.
Michael Block was the story. And what a great one he was.
You probably know the basics by now, but just in case you don’t, it goes like this: Block, 46, is a PGA teaching professional, but not a touring professional. He and thousands like him form the backbone of the PGA. If you need a lesson, or one of your children needs a lesson, there’s a good chance you would go see someone like Block.
He’s a very good player; if there are a thousand better golfers in the United States, I’d be surprised. This isn’t Fairleigh Dickinson over Purdue, or Chaminade over Virginia, from back in the day. Block’s handicap is +4.5. That means that if he came to your home course, he would likely shoot between 67 and 69.
Still, the gulf between guys like Block and the field he was going against last week is significant. They practice all the time and do things on a golf course that don’t seem possible. Block helps people improve. The Koepkas and Rory McIlroys of the world thrill fans on television; Block helps those same fans enjoy their own rounds more.
It was incredible enough that he shot 1-over for the tournament at brutal Oak Hill, tying for 15th place and ensuring himself a spot in next year’s PGA – as well as a fat payday of nearly $290,000 – but what happened on the 15th hole of the final round was something else altogether. Block slam-dunked a seven iron on the 151-yard par 3, becoming the first player to notch an ace at the PGA Championship since 2020, and the first club pro to do it since 1996.
He jumped a tidy 3,003 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking, from 3,580 to 577, got a congratulatory text from Michael Jordan, as well as a sponsor’s exemption to this week’s tournament at Colonial. The lesson tee will have to wait a little longer.
The facts of the story are great enough on their own, but my enjoyment of it, and what elevates it even more, are some of the other elements of Block’s run.
Chief among them? He actually enjoyed himself out there. He was in the moment, appreciating it for all its unexpectedness, absurdity, and overall surreal quality. Anytime an underdog is making a push for an upset, in any sport, it always feels like there’s another shoe waiting to drop, an expectation that the bottom is going to fall out at any minute. I never got that sense with Block; he shrugged off bad shots and rallied with better ones.
Block’s attitude, and his penchant for wearing his emotions on his sleeve – sometimes literally, there were a lot of happy tears – made him easy to embrace; for the crowds at Oak Hill, those watching at home, and even his fellow competitors. McIlroy was clearly having a blast with him Sunday, and Justin Rose seemed to be having a similar experience during miserable weather conditions on Saturday.
The other thing that really got me was Block’s post-round interview with CBS’ Amanda Renner, who showed him video of members at Arroyo Trabuco, his home club in Mission Viejo, California, going wild while watching his hole-in-one in the clubhouse. When Renner mentioned one of Block’s sons, the golfer quickly mentioned that said son was under the weather, then broke down when told that he was the one taking the video.
I was struck by how, mere minutes after making the biggest up-and-down of his life on the biggest day of his professional life, a father was thinking about his son’s health, and not his own happiness.
That moment drove home the reality that Block, while an exceptional golfer, is a pretty regular guy. He’s not larger than life, like some of the tour’s best. He earned his chance on the big stage, and made it count in a very big way. He knew what was happening was life-changing, and he savored and appreciated every minute.
Brooks Koepka might have shot the lowest score, but at this year’s PGA Championship, Michael Block was the runaway winner.
This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Mueller: Block’s stunning PGA run perfect tonic for cynical sports landscape