ROCHESTER, NEW YORK
| When Michael Block appeared on the walkway 30 feet above Oak Hill’s first tee, about to begin his fourth round of the PGA Championship, he could have been a rock star making a spectacular entrance. A real Rochester roar arose from the spectators ankle deep in mud below. Bruce Springsteen or Katy Perry, or perhaps Springsteen and Perry, could not have earned more noise and applause.
The reason is that of all the 76 competitors in the final round, Block was the people’s champion, the only club pro left in the competition, a man who charges $150 an hour for a lesson and never had won more than $75,000 in prize money and was now in line for the biggest payday of his life, the man who had been tied for eighth after 54 holes.
This friendly man who at 46 is nearly twice as old as some of his rivals, is burlier than some and thicker around the waist than others. He, the Southern California PGA Player of the Year nine times in the past 10 years, had written the words “Why Not” on his golf balls last week. After three level-par rounds of 70, could a win or even a high finish while having the time of his life be on the cards? Why not? “Why Not,” indeed?
Of the many benefits Block received last week, the friendship of his playing competitors was one of the most important.
“The coolest part in the world is to know that down the road … in the Farmers or American Express next year or maybe sitting there at the players’ lounge having lunch, I’ll sit down with (Justin) Rosie,” said Block, the teaching professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo.
Rory McIlroy, Block’s playing competitor on Sunday, looked to have become a friend, too. The two men often walked the fairways with heads bent, deep in conversation as if they were walking down a street.
Block’s start in the final round was not the stuff of which dreams are made. He ran up a bogey while McIlroy, after a sumptuous approach, tapped in from only inches for a birdie. Spectators lining the left of the second fairway tried to spur him on with chants of “Let’s go, Block! Let’s go, Block!” Could a club pro outscore the world No. 3?
The answer was no, despite a hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 151-yard 15th for which he was applauded from tee to green. Then remarkable pars on the 17th and 18th holes gave him a round of 71 and a total of 1-over 281.
“This is unbelievable,” McIlroy observed, shaking his head.
“The atmosphere out there, playing with Michael, was unbelievable,” McIlroy said. “We both got amazing support, but you know, he got unbelievable support, understandably so, being in this position as a club pro and playing so well and, you know, competing into the latter stages of a major championship. It was really impressive. It was nice to go out there and share the course with him for 18 holes.”
Brooks Koepka won the 105th PGA Championship. Michael Block, his 15th-place finish guaranteeing him a place at next year’s PGA at Valhalla, won the hearts and minds of many. The man of the moment had had the week of his life, to no one’s displeasure.
“This week's been absolutely a dream,” Block said. “I didn't know it was going to happen, but I knew if I just played my darned game, right, that I could do this. I always knew it.
“My life's changed, but my life's only changed in the better. I've got my family. I've got my friends. I've got the people that really love me and care about me here. It's an epic experience.”
Block won’t have to wait long for his next shot. He disclosed in his post-round interview that he had just accepted the last sponsor’s exemption into this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.