Even stunning shank can’t derail PGA Championship’s Cinderella story

michael block shank at pga championship

Michael Block's tee shot at the par-3 5th at Oak Hill on Thursday.

Jack Hirsh/GOLF.com

Michael Block was having a dream Friday at mighty Oak Hill. Through his first round and a half in the 105th PGA Championship, the 46-year-old club pro from Southern California was at three under par and fighting for the outright lead in the season’s second major.

A day earlier, he had delighted ESPN’s announcers — and legions of viewers — when he wore a mic on the 14th hole and talked through how he was playing so solidly on such a tough setup (he was one over at the time) against the best players in the world. He eventually signed for an even-par 70 to finish the day tied for 20th.

On Friday morning, Block’s fine play continued. Playing the back nine first, he birdied 10, 12 and 14 to move to three under and into a tie for 2nd. He gave a shot back at the long par-4 17th but quickly made up for it by draining a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 1st. Could a club pro actually win this week? Block was beginning to make the improbable seem plausible.

He was making the game look easy, which of course it’s not — especially on such an exacting test as rough-choked Oak Hill.

But then…

Gosh, we wish this Cinderella story didn’t have to have a but then, but alas it does. After a bogey at the par-5 4th dropped Block back to two under, he settled into his tee shot at the 180-yard par-3 6th , drew back his club and…

“Oh my gosh,” a commentator said on ESPN’s coverage, “that is a shank.”

And a textbook one at that.

Block’s ball rocketed off his hosel at a 45-degree angle toward a fence that lines the hole. As he reached the top of his follow-through, Block pulled one hand off his club in disgust. That was the bad news. The good news: His ball could have easily gone out of bounds but instead it ricocheted off a tree and bounced back into the rough in front of the tee box.  

“I had the same swing I’ve had all week,” Block said after his round. “It was a nice little 8-iron, front left pin. I love hitting baby draw with my 8-iron. I’ve done it well all week, and all of a sudden we’ve all been there, done that, and we look up, and I’m, like, oh, my goodness. The ball was just going off, somehow hit the tree, almost killed somebody, and then comes off and goes in the deep rough.

“In my head, I’m going, You have got to be kidding me right now. I’ve been flushing it all day. Last couple days the driving range is like a video game.”

Block’s ensuing shot — he had about 70 yards left — won’t make his week’s highlight reel, either. From a gnarly lie, he tugged the ball short and left of the green. “The hardest shot to hit is the next one after you’ve hit a hosel rocket,” said a voice from the booth. Block required three more shots to hole out and walked away with a double-bogey 5.

It was the kind of hole that could derail a player, especially a club pro playing on such a grand stage. But here’s some more good news: Block is not easily rattled.

The 10-time Southern California PGA Player of the Year is playing in his fifth PGA Championship this week; he also has played in two U.S. Opens and several PGA Tour events. That experienced showed. Quickly putting the messy 5th hole behind him, Block closed the round with four straight pars to finish with another even-par 70 and in a tie for 14th at the time, just four back of 18-hole leader Bryson DeChambeau.

Good thing, too, because Block sounds like he’d rather eat glass than shoot over par.

“Anything with a plus sign next to it is very disappointing,” he said Thursday. “Honestly, it pisses me off. I can’t handle it.”

Alan Bastable

Golf.com Editor

As GOLF.com’s executive editor, Bastable is responsible for the editorial direction and voice of one of the game’s most respected and highly trafficked news and service sites. He wears many hats — editing, writing, ideating, developing, daydreaming of one day breaking 80 — and feels privileged to work with such an insanely talented and hardworking group of writers, editors and producers. Before grabbing the reins at GOLF.com, he was the features editor at GOLF Magazine. A graduate of the University of Richmond and the Columbia School of Journalism, he lives in New Jersey with his wife and foursome of kids.

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