Club pro Michael Block revels in the PGA Championship spotlight
8 Min Read
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Michael Block’s wife Val has caught the golf bug in recent years. But she won’t take a lesson from her husband.
“That man can teach every single human in the world,” Val said with a laugh. “But not me. He doesn’t have the patience for me.”
Those lessons would come from a lofty place. Block, a PGA of America professional, is firmly in contention halfway through this year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill, adding a Cinderella storyline to a field filled with the biggest names in the game. George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” but Block is showing that he can, indeed, do both.
Club pro Michael Block’s incredible showing at the PGA Championship
Oak Hill has flummoxed several of the PGA TOUR’s stars – both world No. 1 Jon Rahm and last week’s winner, Jason Day, shot 76 on Thursday – but Block has posted two straight rounds of even-par 70. Only two players from his half of the draw – Justin Rose and Taylor Pendrith -- shot lower 36-hole scores, and both are just a stroke ahead of the 46-year-old club pro from Southern California.
Block has finished two rounds ahead of names like Patrick Cantlay, Max Homa, Xander Schauffele and Sam Burns. The fact that he was easily outpacing Rahm, the winner of this year’s Masters, early Friday afternoon? He paused, thought, and shook his head. A tear came to his eye.
But who is he? With an orange hoodie and wide smile, he might just be one of the coolest guys in golf. He engaged the western New York fans, who’ve hungered for pro golf’s return to the region. After holing his final putt Friday, he raised his hands in a gesture of incredulity. Then he spent nearly an hour with the media. He was in no rush. He wanted to bottle this long-awaited moment.
He’s a golf professional, for sure, but by no means a touring pro.
"I'm just your local club pro," Block said Friday. "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.
"Club pros, I always heard, figure it out within a couple shots. TOUR pros figure it out within one shot, and I was lucky enough to figure it out within one shot this time."
The native of Missouri moves with an ambling gait, purposeful but without angst. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, a solid, athletic build that’s undoubtedly helped him in this tussle with an old-school, major-championship test.
But Block is not an athlete by trade. He is the head golf professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California. He’s been there for nearly two decades, starting as the course’s tournament director in 2004 before becoming the head pro within a couple of years. He earned his Class A status with the PGA of America in 2012. Since then, he’s been one of the best players both locally and nationally among those who sneak out of the pro shop just enough to tee it up in tournaments.
The idea of pursuing a career as a touring pro? It never really inspired him. Aside from the time his club pushed him to enter PGA TOUR Q-School, he is perfectly content with a more traditional life. It’s not that he doubted his talent. The pursuit is just so fickle.
“I need a real job that’s going to be paying me weekly,” Block said. “The PGA of America has allowed me to be out here and compete, and it’s really made a perfect life for me as far as being able to be at home with my family and also come out here and compete with the best players in the world.
“I’ve always lived my life where if your life’s in a good place, the hole looks big, and that’s why I wasn’t going to be a TOUR pro. I don’t want to have to make putts to pay my mortgage.”
Around the time he began at Arroyo Trabuco, Block met Val, an Argentine whose work brought her to Southern California. They spent time in Laguna Beach and instantly connected. Val returned to Argentina for 20 days but then came back to Michael. They now have two boys, Dylan, 18, and Ethan, 16, who have also developed the golf itch. Dylan will compete alongside his dad at a U.S. Open Final Qualifying site next month in California, hoping to share spots in the field at Los Angeles Country Club. Ethan shot 69 in a high school state quarterfinal Thursday.
For Block, a typical workday goes as follows: Arrive at the club at 8 a.m., do payroll, then lessons. Back to the office, then lessons mid-afternoon. A standard 45-minute lesson runs $125, with a nine-hole playing lesson going for $500. Reasonable rates for such an accomplished player.
The highlight of the day comes in the late afternoon, when Dylan and Ethan will come to the course and practice with their dad. Michael calls it “the best thing in the world.”
“The club is very supportive,” he added. “I’m very, very lucky.”
They are a true golf family. Val is now a 15 handicap after picking up the game five years ago.
When not working with his clients or his kids, Block isn’t afraid to compete, and the accolades are plentiful. He’s been named the Southern California PGA Player of the Year in nine of the last 10 years. This week marks his 25th PGA TOUR start, the majority of which have come from his success in Southern California PGA events. He also won the 2014 PGA Professional National Championship, which netted him six TOUR starts. He earned his spot at Oak Hill with a T2 in that same event earlier this month. He also is the reigning PGA of America Professional National Player of the Year.
Block was within a shot of the lead as he played his back nine Friday and there was a moment where things have could have gone sideways after his shank at the par-3 fifth, his 14th hole of the day.
A tree kept his ball from going out of bounds, but it also knocked his ball down just 58 yards from the tee. Block didn’t wallow. Far from it. He joked to playing partner Taylor Pendrith that he hadn’t yet practiced from that position this week. He couldn’t get much on his second shot, advancing it into a greenside bunker en route to a double bogey.
That dropped him to even par, with the course’s most difficult hole next up. He didn’t start thinking about the cut line, however. He striped his tee shot, hit his approach within 15 feet and made an easy par to steady himself. It was the first of four consecutive pars to close his round.
Block promises to revel in the moment. But he doesn’t plan for the ride to end quite yet.
“As weird as it sounds, I’m going to compete,” Block said. “I promise you that.”
Maybe it’s the games back home with Patrick Cantlay and Beau Hossler – Block jokes that he’ll negotiate odds with Cantlay, while Hossler will give him “maybe a stroke” per round.
“He’s just a gregarious, happy, confident man,” said friend Rob Labritz, who competed in eight PGA Championships and now plays on PGA TOUR Champions. “I read something where (he said) he’s not trying to be a TOUR pro; he knows that he’s just a really good club pro, and I think that perspective has given him a lot of goodwill in the week. When you realize your place, and you realize where you are, and you’re content with yourself, you can do your best work.”
Block’s round ended with a 3-foot putt to save par from a greenside bunker. He raised both arms to the sky. In his seventh major championship, this is the first time he’s made the cut. His two-round total of 140 is eight strokes better than his previous best in a major.
“It’s just smooth sailing from here,” Block said. “The hole’s going to look huge for me over the weekend, and it’s not for them. … I’m good to go. I made the cut, my game’s good, and the hole is going to look big to me, so we’re good.
“It was my last little checkmark I needed. Make the cut, low club pro, done.”
Don’t tell Block, but there could be a bonus box of sorts. A club pro has never finished top-10 at the PGA Championship. He’ll begin Saturday’s third round at Oak Hill right around that top-10 line. The course is likely only to get tougher, and two more 70s could stand up quite well.
Block inscribes his mantra “Why not?” on his golf balls. Along these lines, it’s a reasonable query.
“Just keep on watching him,” Val said. “Because he deserves it.”
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.