Out of nowhere
PGA Championship 2023: Masters, money, history on the line for club pro Michael Block
Kevin C. Cox
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Michael Block is a showman, which is an odd thing to say about a PGA club professional, but the 46-year-old is hamming it up at Oak Hill and why the hell not? He’s not supposed to be here, having booked a flight home to California for Saturday morning, believing his stay in upstate New York would not last to the weekend. But he’s here and he’s contending at this PGA Championship while mugging and shrugging at the camera like Jim from “The Office” after every shot, acting like he knows this shouldn’t be happening yet harboring the very conviction and talent needed to do what he’s done.
And this fun and feel-good story has done the damndest thing, which is to give a chance to make that story matter on Sunday.
"I can compete against these guys, to be honest," Block said on Saturday evening, trying to explain the unexplainable. "I can hang."
Block has done more than hang. Against the backdrop of a downpour and surrendering some 40 yards of distance to his competitors, Block is even through three days of this PGA Championship with three straight 70s, just one of nine players who isn’t over par. He is just outside the fire, six shots back, and will play with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy on Sunday.
Winning might be a tall task at six back—especially with the likes of Brooks Koepka, Viktor Hovland, Bryson DeChambeau and McIlroy in his way—although that's the mindset Block still maintains. "They'd have to come back a little bit, but can I shoot three or four under? One hundred percent, absolutely, especially if the fairways dry out a little bit. That would be a huge thing for me." Still, even without a W, there’s a heck of a lot on the line for the final 18.
The first is a bit of history. Earlier this week Block said his goal was to make the cut and to be the low club pro. He is about to blow past those benchmarks. Block is T-8 entering the final round, and if that sounds low, it is: The last club professional to be among the top 10 on the leaderboard after 54 holes of a PGA Championship was Bob Boyd in 1990 at Shoal Creek. The best finish by a PGA club pro in championship history is T-11.
There’s also some money to be had. The PGA of America announced it has added $2.5 million to this year’s purse for a total of $17.5 million. If he finishes in ninth, that would net him a cool $500,000, with a top-20 finish bringing home $213,000. Which is pretty good change for a guy charging $150 per lesson.
"[Most I've made is] $75,000, 2014, Club Professional National Championship at the Dunes Club in Myrtle Beach," Block said. "There was the 2001 California State Open for $4,500 for a long, long time, and when I got $75K in one tournament, I was very happy."
Of course, Block is a competitor, and one of the best opportunities to be had on Sunday is the chance to do all of this again. The top 15 finishers (and ties) get an invite to next year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville. If he finishes in the top four, he receives a spot at the Masters. (Trips to the U.S. Open and Open Championship, however, would require a win.)
Additionally, a top-10 finish will give Block a spot into the PGA Tour's RBC Canadian Open in three weeks (the next PGA Tour event that's not an invitational or designated event). And a two-way tied for third or better would actually earn him special temporary membership status on the PGA Tour, allowing him to accept unlimited sponsor's exemptions for the remainder of the 2022-23 season.
For what it’s worth, Block isn’t trying to get ahead of himself, trying to block out the noise and stay in the moment to appreciate it for what it is. He’s already achieved something he doubted, which is if he had the game to compete with the best, and through 54 holes, he has.
"I doubt if anybody on this entire property loves golf as much as I love golf," Block said. "I've learned at this point to enjoy the moment, to sit back and relax and enjoy it because it goes by fast, and life goes by fast. Before you know it, you're 60 years old and retired and look back at the videos on this and remember that was the best week of my life, and more than likely this is probably going to be the best week of my life. So I'm going to sit back as much as I can with my friends and family at the house we rented and watch the videos tonight and see all my new followers on Instagram. It's been crazy, it's been awesome."
The crowd seems to be enjoying it, too, bestowing their loudest cheers for Block as they did their best to let him know what he was doing was not lost on them. As he tapped in his final stroke on Saturday the 18th grandstands gave him a standing ovation and Block did all he could do hold himself back. Michael Block has a chance to do something special Sunday at the PGA Championship, but to those outside the ropes, he already has.
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