Block party: PGA Club pro Michael Block makes the cut at Oak Hill and has big plans for the weekend
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Michael Block has imprinted on his TaylorMade golf balls the words, “WHY NOT?”
Could it be that a 46-year-old Southern Cal club pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo shot a pair of even-par 70s in the first two rounds at Oak Hill in the 105th PGA Championship? Why not?
Could a club pro who spends the majority of his time on the lesson tee beat the likes of Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler and even nip Patrick Cantlay, who gives him odds when they play back home, by a stroke so far? Why not?
Could it be that a PGA club pro is in the top 20 at the halfway point of the PGA Championship for just the second time in the last 20 years? Why not?
"I don't know why that makes me emotional but it does."
Michael Block was brought to tears when he was told he is out in front of Masters champion Jon Rahm.
On a trying Oak Hill course, he shot 70-70 and will make the cut @PGAChampionship. pic.twitter.com/FbDV0GHEVd
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 19, 2023
The genesis of Block’s “Why not” ball stamping goes like this: More than 15 years ago, he said he was the type of player who used to question himself over every shot, the type who’d also get ahead of himself booking hotel rooms in his mind before he made the cut or even qualified for a tournament. But one day he was on the verge of winning a tournament and simply told himself, Why not win?
Here Blockie, his nickname that is on his staff bag, picks up the thread of the story: “Why not just clip this, spin it to the right three feet, and make the putt?” he recalled. “I go, why not? I started saying that, and so to do it, they started stamping my golf balls.”
In 2007, at Bear Creek in Murrieta, California, he had a 22-footer in a playoff to get into the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
“I was behind the putt, and my caddie whispers over my ear and says, ‘If you make this, we’re in the Open.’ Out loud, while I was over the golf ball, I said, ‘Why not?’ Then I proceeded to drain it and made it into the U.S. Open at Oakmont, which is my first event I ever played in.”
Block also played in another U.S. Open at Shinnecock in 2018, and described Oak Hill as what might result if Oakmont and Shinnecock had “a baby.” He made six birdies during Thursday’s opening-round 70 and did a live walk and talk on the 14th hole with ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt that he knocked out of the park.
“I’m just your local club pro. That’s what I do. I don’t hit balls. People think I’ve got the best job in the world. I do have a great job. I have a very supportive club that lets me go play, but the amount of times I hit a bucket of balls is not even once a week,” he explained. “I always tell everybody, I practiced a lot when I was young. I’m old now, and my swing is what it is.”
The top-20 finishers in the PGA Professional Championship are exempt into the PGA and Block checked that box for the fifth time by finishing tied for second last month in the club pro championship. He had missed the cut in all six majors he’d previously played in and had made the cut in just four of 24 career starts on the PGA Tour — the last in 2015 and the best a T-69.
But why not do something special this week? After all, Block had shot an opening-round 65 at the Tour’s American Express in January and a second-round 72 in windy conditions at Southern Hills during last year’s PGA Championship. Block plays regularly back home with Tour pros Beau Hossler, who if he’s lucky will give him a shot, and Cantlay, who he plays straight up but gets odds on their bet.
“I understand how my game doesn’t quite get up to them, but I’m pretty darn close, and I can compete with them,” Block said. “I’ve been gaining that confidence from those finishes in those rounds where I’m like, why not? Why not come here and compete? Why not here at Oak Hill, make the cut? I’m not afraid of them anymore, to be honest.”
Before this week, he said his claim to fame has been leading a U.S. Open as one of the players in the first groups to make an early birdie but then he’d look at the scoreboard and faded away. On Friday, Block reeled off three birdies in the first five holes and was T-2 at 3 under. He made a bogey at 17 but bounced back with a birdie at the first. He made a sloppy bogey from 89 yards away at the par-5 fourth hole and then stepped to the tee at the 165-yard fifth tee.
“It was a nice little 8-iron, front left pin. I love hitting baby draw with my 8-iron. I’ve done it well all week,” he said.
But not this time. He hit a hosel rocket, a dead shank to the right, dare we say Block blocked it right of right that it nearly went out of bounds.
“We’ve all been there, done that,” he said, “and I’m, like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ The ball was just going off, somehow hit the tree, almost killed somebody, and then comes off and goes in the deep rough, and I was actually fortunate enough to make a double bogey.”
“I’ve seen him hit a lot of golf shots,” said his caddie John Jackson, “but I’ve never seen him hit one like that.”
About a half hour later, two-time major winner Dustin Johnson shanked one, too, proving the dreaded shanks strike even the best of them. When his caddie told him about Johnson’s similar blunder, Block said, “Hey, that makes me feel better.”
A 45-minute lesson with Block will run you $125, but he gave a free tip on how to fix a shank.
“Your hands are getting too far out in front of you and getting too far away from you,” he said. “I played the last four holes feeling my hands a little tighter to the body through the impact zone.”
The result? “I kinda flushed all of them,” he said.
When he cleaned up for a par from the bunker at No. 9, his last hole of the day, he looked to the heavens, stretched out his arms and mouthed, “Thank you.”
A little about Michael Block's domination in Southern California PGA Section events.
In the last 10 seasons Block has played:
Meaning he has finished 1st or 2nd in 48% of the events over the last 10 years and in the top 10…87%
— Monday Q Info (@acaseofthegolf1) May 19, 2023
Making the cut and being low club pro and being honored for that feat during the champion’s trophy ceremony, he said was the last box he needed to check in a playing career that includes being named Southern California PGA Player of the Year 10 times and the 2022 PGA Professional Player of the Year. But he’s not going to rest on his laurels.
“My game is good. I’ve got it. I’m peaking right now,” he said. “I’ve got no pressure. I’ve got a job, I’ve got a paycheck waiting for me at my club so I don’t have to make putts this week to pay my mortgage.” He added, “It’s all good from here. Nothing can go wrong from this point forward and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.”
What would be the ultimate “Why not” for Block this week?
“To win, by far,” he said. “As weird as it sounds, I’m going to compete. I promise you that.”