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11D AGO

Michael Block ready for PGA Championship spotlight one year after everything changed

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    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    Michael Block arrives at this week’s PGA Championship as anything but a yeoman. A self-described “Joe Schmo” no more. Now he’s one of the headliners at Valhalla Golf Club, his 15 minutes of fame given a second wind by his return to the major that made him an instant celebrity.

    He is sandwiched on Tuesday’s interview schedule between Max Homa and Tiger Woods, and the subject of both an ESPN feature and a documentary that will air on CBS before the third round. What Block will do for an encore is one of the questions heading into Thursday’s first round at Valhalla Golf Club.

    It’s a stark contrast from last year, when he was just another one of the 20 club professionals in the field. It’s a contingent that plays an important role in the championship, but whose competitive prospects are understandably low. These are men for whom tournament golf is a side gig – something they have to balance with their day jobs – thrown into the gauntlet against the best players in the world. Block, 47, was the only PGA pro to make the 36-hole cut at Oak Hill last year.

    Two days later, he was receiving almost as much attention as winner Brooks Koepka because of a quasi-miraculous finish that ensured him a spot in this year’s championship. Playing alongside Rory McIlroy, Block made a hole-in-one on No. 15 and a miraculous up-and-down from well left of the 18th green, all of it punctuated by an 8-foot par putt. The top 15 finishers would be invited to this year’s PGA Championship, and Block finished T15.


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


    In the months after Oak Hill, Block signed sponsorship deals with TaylorMade, Cisco, Raising Cane’s and Michelob Ultra, to name a few. He hung out with F1 drivers and celebrity chef Jose Andres and became good friends with DJ Khaled. Block made appearances with Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Max Homa. It’s been a year of unbelievable opportunities filled with adulation, but it has also come with criticism. Acclimating to everything has been an adjustment. For 46 years, Block lived one life. Then everything flipped.

    “I was just your Joe Schmo club pro guy, a pretty good golfer for club pros in Southern California. That was about it,” he said. “And so I could go anywhere and no one would know me, but then all of a sudden, now I'm rolling around and people that I would never expect to know me stop me. It’s been a strange deal.”

    Block insists he hasn’t changed, only the circumstances around him. His friends and family say the same. What Block will admit is that he wasn’t ready. No amount of advice prepared Block to process everything that fame entailed.

    The immediate aftermath of the PGA Championship is still a bit blurry. There were brand deals and commercials. He received sponsor exemptions into the Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Canadian Open. Everyone wanted a piece of the "Block Party," and the longtime PGA of America professional was happy to oblige.


    Players comment on Michael Block's success at PGA Championship


    He wasn’t shy about his exposure. He did every TV sitdown, radio hit and podcast. To Block, it was a no-brainer. Why not take advantage of the opportunities coming to him? He jumped at the chance to live a life he never dreamed of.

    “I never said no,” Block said.

    Count that as a lesson learned. He’s been more selective in the leadup to this year’s PGA Championship, and he is still a bit sour about an overblown reaction to some of his quotes. He could have used a mulligan, he admitted, after his comments on a social media influencer’s podcast. He said he’d card “stupid” numbers if he could play from McIlroy’s tee shots, inferring that it was only a lack of length off the tee that kept him from competing alongside the world’s best.

    “I think I'd be one of the best players in the world,” he added. “If I had that stupid length? All day. My iron game, wedge game, around the greens and my putting is world class.”

    Block had captured hearts with his “aw, shucks” approach to everything he encountered at Oak Hill. He was overflowing with gratitude, a refreshing contrast to a world overflowing with cynicism. But his comments undercut that, making him sound brash. That wasn’t his intent, though.

    “I probably shouldn’t have said it,” Block told PGATOUR.COM in January, insisting he was trying to illustrate how impressive the current pro game is. Regardless, it was a wake-up call. A people-pleaser by nature, Block learned that’s not possible with any level of fame.

    He’s become content to lose that battle.

    “The internet can be a little brutal,” he said. “And at the beginning, I got hurt by a couple things that I'd be looking at – comments and stuff like that. And that hurt because I'd never seen anyone really talk bad about me before. And I'm like, ‘Who are you guys? You never met me.'”

    It has been important to differentiate what he sees online from what he feels in everyday life. Block gets recognized daily. It happens at the grocery store, on the golf course, and everywhere in between. Fans ask for pictures and videos and recall where they were when Block made his ace at Oak Hill’s 15th. He can’t make it through dinner without being interrupted by well-wishers, and the autograph seekers have been lined up after his rounds in the six pro events, including the Australian Open, he’s played since Oak Hill.


    PGA Professional Michael Block’s ace leads Shots of the Week


    “The positives are 95% compared to 5% of a whole bunch of haters that hate on everything possible,” Block said. “So I've understood that now. It took me a little bit of time to figure that out.”

    Block finished T27 in Australia but missed the cut in all five TOUR starts he’s made in the past 12 months. Two of those starts came on sponsor exemptions, the other three were the result of his continued dominance in the Southern California PGA. Block has been named the section’s Player of the Year in 10 of the past 11 years. He also was the PGA Professional Player of the Year in both 2022 and 2023.


    Michael Block saves par from bridge at Charles Schwab


    There are moments when he wishes he could turn it off, but mostly, he’s just grateful. He always wanted to do what he did at Oak Hill, contend as a club pro. He just didn’t imagine it would lead to this.

    As he finished his second round at the Farmers Insurance Open, a disappointing 76 to miss the cut by four, Block stayed for 30 minutes signing autographs. That’s where he’s at his best, interacting with and entertaining the crowd.

    Al Geiberger Jr., son of the former PGA Championship winner, was Block’s caddie for the week. “It's been one of the more surreal, cool experiences, seeing someone I'm so close with go through this,” said Geiberger, a club pro in Palm Desert, California. He met Block more than a dozen years ago, and they have become close friends. “It's something we've all known about him and so the rest of the world can finally get to see it and enjoy who he is – an awesome, fun, real dude.”

    Block’s popularity soared in the days following the PGA Championship. He gained more than 250,000 followers on Instagram. Along with traditional sponsors, Block signed a deal with the uber-popular YouTube golf group GoodGood. Block has appeared in their videos and wears their apparel. His social media feed has morphed from videos of junior lessons at Arroyo Trabuco to a smattering of podcast interview clips and sponsored posts. Block’s co-workers at the club have dubbed him “the club’s pro,” poking fun at his schedule that now often mirrors a PGA TOUR player. Block joked that he might change his business card.

    His job won’t change, though. Block is under no illusions he will be a TOUR player, though he expressed interest in PGA TOUR Champions once he turns 50. He balanced a competitive playing schedule and club pro duties long before Oak Hill. Block has made 30 PGA TOUR starts in his career, mainly as a section qualifier from the Southern California PGA.

    Block earned his way into The American Express and Farmers as Southern California PGA section champion. It’s how he prefers it. Sponsor exemptions are great – Block has one for next week’s Charles Schwab Challenge – but it’s eminently more gratifying to earn it through his play. It’s why the satisfaction of his T15 at the PGA Championship was so immense. He earned his spot at Valhalla this week, along with everything else.


    Michael Block on what the future holds after performance at PGA Championship


    That week at Oak Hill has stuck with him. When he plays competitively, he often thinks back to shots he hit during that week. There’s the “little Oak Hill 7-iron,” the shot he dunked for the infamous hole-in-one on the 15th hole. He plays that one often, having found it’s a helpful swing thought to avoid a left miss. There’s the famous pitch shot from greenside on the 18th, after which he made the 8-footer for par to punch his ticket to Valhalla. He calls upon that memory when in a tough spot.


    Michael Block on offers to sell 7-iron after PGA Championship ace


    The lasting memory from the week was not on the course. It was the celebration afterward with friends and family, singing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” back at their rental house in Rochester after everyone had enjoyed a few too many drinks. There will be upwards of 40 friends and family in attendance at Valhalla, watching Block make his encore.

    Maybe he will surprise the world again. Or maybe he won’t. It doesn’t matter much to Block.

    “Never in my wildest dreams did I think the last year was going to go how it did,” Block said. “This is all a bonus.”

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