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Why we'll never forget Michael Block

8 Min Read


Why we'll never forget Michael Block

Career club pro makes Sunday ace alongside Rory McIlroy, finishes T15 at PGA Championship

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Where were you when Michael Block made the ace?

    The question will be asked in western New York’s golf circles, and beyond, for quite some time. Maybe for generations.

    Local resident Ryan LaRue was behind the green on the par-3 15th when Block arrived at the tee. LaRue had a down-the-line view as the 46-year-old PGA of America pro, the Cinderella story of this year’s PGA Championship, flighted a 7-iron that slam-dunked into the cup.

    It was the moment when the magical all but turned absurd. Block, a club pro who gives lessons for a living, had been beating the best players in the world all week. He pulled within one shot of the lead in the second round, started Sunday in the top 10 and now … an ace? In a major? On Sunday’s back nine, while playing alongside one of the best players in the game.

    To paraphrase the late, great Vin Scully, in a week that had been so improbable, the impossible had happened.

    Michael Block dunks it for an ace at the PGA Championship

    Block signed for a 71 on Sunday after sinking an 8-foot par putt to complete an incredible up-and-down from well left of the 18th green. It was good for a T15 finish, the best PGA Championship finish by a PGA professional since Lonnie Nielsen’s T11 at Inverness in 1986 (and the third-best in tournament history). Block’s impressive play, and the unvarnished enthusiasm he showed throughout, drew in golf fans who resonated with his love for the game.

    His newfound popularity also netted him sponsor exemptions into the Charles Schwab Challenge this week and RBC Canadian Open on June 8-11, two opportunities to keep the dream alive.

    LaRue, one of thousands who observed Block’s ace in person, is a 20-year-old who said he “just loves golf.” He attended the PGA on Sunday with his dad Kevin, captivated by Block’s performance and endearing authenticity.

    Block, the long-time pro at public Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, says what’s on his mind and steers clear of cliches. He noted in a press conference earlier this week that the standard press conference in golf can lean on the dull side. Given an opportunity to stand behind the dais, he did not want to do the same. He has the gift of gab, and the fans responded.

    “He’s the best,” said TOUR pro Beau Hossler, a frequent playing partner back home. “I’m envious of his ability to do that. I get tired of talking to people all day, every day, but he does it like it’s his job. He always has time for everyone, and it’s admirable.”

    LaRue narrated the moment to a friend on FaceTime, assuring him that yes, this actually happened. It was difficult to comprehend, even for those who saw it in person.

    “It was like a fever dream,” said LaRue, who made his own ace at Buffalo-area muni Eden Valley GC in 2020. “Everyone went crazy, and it was awesome. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. … If anyone was going to do it, it was going to be him.”

    Block played Sunday’s final round at Oak Hill alongside four-time major winner Rory McIlroy. A popular figure wherever he plays, McIlroy is a local hero of sorts around here; his wife Erica hails from Rochester and began her career in the golf world at Oak Hill in advance of the 2008 Senior PGA Championship. McIlroy has adopted the Buffalo Bills and Block is a friend of Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who has a home in Southern California; it made for ample chants of the football team’s “Hey-ayy-ayy-ayy” rallying cry, which began down the first fairway and only continued.

    McIlroy had a clear vantage point for the ace, which was Block’s first in competition.

    “Michael stands up and hits this lovely little draw back into off the left wind, and the ball goes straight into the hole,” McIlroy said. “When it’s your week, it’s your week in a way.”

    Block’s caddie for the week, John Jackson, noted that Block continued to use his ace ball for the final three holes. That ball lived dangerously on the 72nd hole, as Block missed the fairway right and then sailed his second shot into the gallery short-left of the green. Maybe it was according to plan, as the wayward approach gave Block another opportunity to high-five the fans in their “Block party,” as deemed by the Oak Hill spectators.

    Block pitched up the hill to 8 feet and dripped the left-to-right curling par putt into the center of the cup. Because why not?

    Michael Block gets up-and-down to finish in the top 15 at the PGA Championship

    Jackson was riding shotgun for the ace, helping Block settle on the 7-iron after considering a 6-iron.

    “After Rory hit, the wind really kind of picked up,” Jackson said, “So we were a little in between clubs and kind of wanted to chip a 6-iron, and then it died down, and we were both like, ‘If it’s like this, it’s a perfect 7, let’s go right now,’ and we just pegged it and went, and it was a perfect 7-iron.

    “He’s interacting with the fans, he’s genuine, he’s one of all of these people out here. He’s pretty good at golf, but he’s just a normal dude with a good family. … He’s like a lot of these guys walking around out here.”

    There’s a unique lore when it comes to aces at Oak Hill. During the second round of the 1989 U.S. Open, four holes-in-one were made at the par-3 sixth hole (which now plays as No. 5).

    Prior to Block’s ace, there had yet to be a hole-in-one this week at Oak Hill. In the fourth-to-last group to play the final par-3 on Sunday, he changed that.

    “What can I say?” said Block’s wife Val. “I was seeing the ball go up, and it was right and then straight in the hole. My entire body just was shaking, and my hair was shaking. Wow. Unreal. Unreal.”

    Val is an Argentine who met Block through a mutual friend in Laguna Beach in the early 2000s. She was instantly smitten and never moved back to Argentina. Now she didn’t want this magical moment to end. As the western New York fans cheered his name – he told them during the trophy ceremony on the 18th green that he may move to Rochester – she wiped a tear from her eye. The gravity all came bearing down, all at once.

    “Couldn’t even dream of something like this,” Val said. “I’m so proud of him. Wow. Wow.”

    She paused and shook her head, the emotion bordering on disbelief.

    “I’m going to take this with me,” Val said, “for the rest of my life.”

    Val had a single regret, that their sons Ethan and Dylan couldn’t be there; they had prior engagements back home in California. The good news: the abundant coverage throughout the week means ample fodder for a scrapbook.

    Where was Block for the ace that broke sound barriers in Rochester, as well as the Internet? He was on the tee hugging McIlroy. At first he was confused; he thought the shot settled 10 feet or so from the cup. But he thought to himself: “Why would Rory be hugging me for a shot to 10 feet?”

    He asked McIlroy if the ball went in, and the answer was affirmative. Block strolled toward the green as the fans roared his name. The echoes of “Let’s Go Block!” reverberated across the historic property, echoes reflecting off oak trees that were planted nearly 100 years ago from coffee cans in the backyard of legendary club member John R. Williams.

    It was a historic shot in a historic week. Block was the only club pro to make the cut and departs western New York as the first PGA professional to finish in the top 15 at the PGA since Nielsen – fittingly, a two-decade club pro at Crag Burn GC (Josh Allen’s home club) in the Buffalo suburbs.

    Things have a way of coming full circle in western New York, a region Block is sure to revisit.

    Club pro Michael Block’s magical week continues

    “Next mayor of Rochester,” called out a fan after Block holed out on No. 18 Sunday.

    Block’s friend, Jacob Smith, caddied in Block’s runner-up finish at the PGA Professional Championship earlier this month. That finish earned him one of 20 available spots in the PGA field. He was overjoyed that Block navigated Oak Hill with “90% of his game,” as opposed to prior showings on TOUR. This marks Block’s 25th TOUR start, most earned via high performance in Southern California PGA Section events; his previous best finish was 69th place.

    Smith was on-hand all week, including inside-the-ropes access Wednesday, and joined Block in retrieving their friend Lyon Lazare, a California club pro at Monarch Beach Golf Links, from the airport on Friday night. Prior to their airport arrival, they grabbed dinner. Smith suggested McDonald’s; Block was skeptical. He tried again: “Chick-fil-A?” and Block quickly agreed.

    Their establishment of choice Sunday evening, he said, would be the Pittsford Pub. Block went last Sunday night and not a single person recognized him. Things might be different this time, and the tab might be more robust.

    “We’re still taking this all in,” Lazare said. “This is incredible. All the PGA professionals, 28,000 of them, were sitting at home, rooting him on. For this to come to fruition, unbelievable. … He gives us (PGA professionals) a lot of hope, and a lot of people look up to him, myself included.

    “I was trying to track the ball in the air (on 15), and all of a sudden I just look at the flag, just to see if something had landed around it, and right in.”

    Lazare shared these sentiments during the awards ceremony, as one final cheer emerged from the grandstands behind Oak Hill’s par-4 18th: “Block! Block! Block! Block!”

    “Something I’m sure he’ll never forget, I’ll never forget, the family will never forget,” Lazare said. “Pretty incredible. This is a Cinderella story in real life.”

    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.

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