Lynch: As a club pro enjoys a fairytale PGA Championship, it’s time to rethink how many should play

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Michael Block is golf’s equivalent of the totems invited to (and pointed at) during State of the Union addresses, the relatable everymen whose experiences positively illustrate the benefits of policies favored by the administration. As emblems go, the PGA of America won’t find a better one this week at Oak Hill Country Club.

The 46-year-old club professional is the ultimate feel-good tale. He spent much of Friday on the upper reaches of the leaderboard before a couple of late stumbles had him signing for a second consecutive 70, a handful off the pace but well ahead of many of the world’s best golfers who play rather than teach for a living.

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“I feel like I’ve got the game this week to compete, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I’ve made the cut, which is obviously, like I told you, a huge goal. I feel like I could shoot even par out here every day. I feel like at the end of the four days that that might be a pretty good result.”

Block is no neophyte in this environment. This is his fifth appearance in a PGA Championship and seventh in a major, in addition to 17 starts on the PGA Tour. He plays frequently at home in California with world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, who he clipped by one stroke through 36 holes. “I don’t know who I beat, who I didn’t beat,” he said, modestly. “I’m going to go out there and do my best and put my head down and play as well as I can for the next two days.”

The PGA of America will carry Block aloft as testimony to what its members bring to the PGA Championship, and it should. The ranks of teaching professionals include many fine players, and his presence and performance have added a welcome dimension to the tournament. But it’s no less true that Block amounts to one ray of sunshine in an otherwise overcast sky for club pros this week.

As Friday wore on, only one of the other 19 club professionals was inside the cut line. Most languished well outside the top 100 in a 156-man field. How any professional — club or touring — performs this week has no bearing on his right to be here. The guys at opposite ends of the leaderboard, Chris Sanger and Scott Scheffler, both earned berths fairly. All 20 club pros competing here did. There should be no qualms about their presence, but it’s not unreasonable to wonder if 20 ought to remain the quota going forward.


The presence of club professionals at Oak Hill speaks to the history of the PGA of America but also to the internal politics of a member-led organization, members whose interests must be incorporated into the running of one of the game’s most important events. Until 1994, the PGA Championship invited 40 club professionals. That number was cut to 25 and then, in 2006, to 20.

It’s time to revise it again.

The PGA of America has a right, an obligation even, to honor members. But inviting the top 20 finishers at the PGA Professional Championship to compete in the PGA Championship dilutes its premier asset while inflating the value of its member tournament. The bar ought to be raised. Awarding places to only the top 10 finishers sets a higher standard for both events. A top-10 cut-off would not have denied us the Block storyline, since he qualified by finishing tied second in the PPC.

There are accomplished tour players who sit home watching club professionals routinely underperform in a major. The obvious retort — that they should just play better to get into the field — has limited utility. They have played better, they just lost out to someone who played okay and finished 20th in the PPC. Club pro loyalists might validly point out that this is the only major not to invite amateurs, and that the PGA Championship is giving members spots that other majors grant to the young and innocent.


To be fair, neither category is likely to produce a winner, but one is at least an investment in talent whose best days are ahead. And the major that invites the most amateurs, the Masters, has no cap on the number of competitors. Augusta National’s grace and favor invitations don’t come at the expense of others.

The qualification criteria for the PGA Championship is overdue an overhaul. Elite golf is a meritocracy and should limit participation trophies, especially in its premier championships. Michael Block is a wonderful reminder of what a hardworking club professional can add to a major, but his outstanding performance also underscores how too often that isn’t the case for too many of his colleagues.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek