Michael Block earns weekend at Oak Hill

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The PGA Championship provides avenues for club professionals to complete with the world's best players. M. James Ward outlines the meaningful nature of such an invaluable connection.
Posted on
May 20, 2023
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Rochester, NY. The unique dimension of the PGA Championship is the avenue provided for club level professionals to tee it up against the world's best players.

The PGA Championship is the marquee event for the 28,000+ plus members of the PGA of America. More often than not the connection provided by these frontline contributors is helping average players get more enjoyment from their own games. In television terms, the club professional operates in general anonymity behind the curtain, not in front of it as tour professionals do weekly.

Michael Block is not a name that leaps to the front of the line in terms of overall recognition. However, the 46-year-old has displayed top quality form over the first two rounds of the 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Carding back-to-back even par rounds of 70, Block earned the opportunity to not only play weekend rounds in Rochester but is in contention, 10th overall, for the illustrious Wannamaker Trophy.

Over the last 40 years (1983 to present) only two club professionals have been in the top ten after 36 holes. Jay Overton was solo second place at the halfway points during the 1988 championship at Oak Tree, eventually tying for 17th position. The other was Buddy Whitten who in 1983 at Riviera, was tied for fourth place after the first two rounds and eventually finished the championship in a tie for 27th.

The last club pro to finish among the top-40 for the entire championship was Steve Schneiter in 2005 at Baltusrol, tying for 40th.

(Photo by Darren Carroll/PGA of America)

Block made a major move early in his second round with three birdies in the first five holes pushing him to three-under-par for the event and breathing down the necks of such accomplished players as world-ranked-number-two Scottie Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau.

His play cooled off but after double-bogeying the par-3 5th (his 14th hole of the round), which included a shanked shot, he finished strongly with four consecutive pars on a series of holes that bedeviled the world's most talented players. For many, a shanked shot could have meant a quick disengagement. Not for Block.

"A lot of people let it affect them and my big thing's to spiral upwards, which is what I really try to do, but I used all the time to spiral downwards," said Block. "I've learned how to start going forward rather than going backwards and it's been a huge help for me in the game of golf, which, as you know, can go sideways very quickly."

Upon leaving the 9th hole after securing his par, Block turned to the gallery and raised both hands in a celebratory fashion. The recognition from the assembled galley was not lost on Block who relished the acknowledgement.

Block is no stranger in playing PGA Championships. He's played in four previous events but never making the cut, until this year.

When not rubbing elbows with golf's top tier players, Block's actual day job is serving as head professional at Trayucco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., a facility he has worked at since its opening 17 years ago.

Block is one of 20 club professionals extended spots in the PGA Championship courtesy of a second-place finish earlier this month at the PGA Professional Championship in New Mexico. His presence at Oak Hill marks his fifth trip at the PGA Championship and seventh start in a major championship.

Having a weekend tee time Block is unencumbered by any pressure and is looking forward to the occasion. "That hole is going to look small for them (top tour pros) over the weekend, and huge for me," Block said. "I'm good to go."

The window for club professionals dovetails with what The Masters does annually for amateurs. The club professional is the daily connector for those who play golf at the recreational level. While Block entertained thoughts of becoming a touring professional, he soon realized the constant pressures in having to play for a living were not conducive to him and the life he now enjoys.

But the confidence to compete is alive and well and Block's eager to hit the stage for the weekend.

"I feel like I've got the game this week to compete, to tell you the truth. 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 golf result."

Block gained a good deal of confidence having played in the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills and scoring a 73 while being near to the group that included the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

"It was ten deep on every hole I played. I shot 73 with everyone there. My GM even said, that was you not being a club pro anymore," said Block. "So, it was a big moment for me. I've kind of lived off that ever since."

Block's dream to go beyond what he's already accomplished is now at hand.

"I don't know who I beat, who I didn't beat. 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 odds in beating the world's best players are certainly long but Block has simply "blocked" that negative out of his mind.

His presence this weekend clearly elevates a powerful Biblical storyline of David versus Goliath.

"Yeah, I wish you guys (the assembled media) could come to my office and hang out with me and come teach with me on the back of the driving range with my students who are out right now (choking up). Yeah, sorry, I don't know why that makes me emotional, but it does."

For Michael Block - the pressure is now in his rear-view mirror. He's already going to be the low club professional in the event since he's the only one who made the 36-hole cut.  The desire to do more is now at-hand. What would be his ultimate fantasy that becomes reality?

"To win, by far. As weird as it sounds, I'm going to compete. I promise you that."

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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