This mic’ed up club pro at the PGA Championship was a delightful surprise
The most entertaining 10 or so minutes in the first round of the PGA Championship were not provided by Rory McIlroy or Jon Rahm or even a resurgent Bryson DeChambeau, whose four-under 66 was good enough for the clubhouse lead when play was suspended for darkness Thursday evening.
No, the most engaging burst of content, to use the vernacular of the day, came by way of 46-year-old Southern California club pro Michael Block.
You knew some fun was coming when a mic’ed-up Block, just moments into a walk-and-talk interview on Oak Hill’s drivable par-4 14th, said to ESPN broadcasters Scott Van Pelt, Andy North and Curtis Strange, “Hey, guys, you see my drive?”
That’s the kind of thing you to say to your buddies in a Saturday-morning fourball match, not to a national-television audience in one of the most high-profile moments of your career. But then again, Block isn’t your typical club pro. A 10-time Southern California PGA Player of the Year, Block is playing in his fifth PGA Championship this week — and, after a five-birdie, even-par 70 that has him tied for 20th, is looking every bit as comfortable as most of the Tour pros in the field. Block also has played in U.S. Opens at Oakmont (2007) and Shinnecock Hills (2018), so when he colorfully describes Oak Hill as what might result if Oakmont and Shinnecock had “a baby” — as Block said during his ESPN interview — he says that with authority.
Block’s session with SVP and Co. had been weighing on him earlier in the round, especially after he made a double-bogey 6 at the 10th to drop to three over for the day. “I told my caddie, I go, we’ve got a couple of birdie holes coming up,” Block said after his round. “I knew I was going to be on the television coverage on hole 14 with a couple of the guys on ESPN, and I didn’t want to go into that being three or four over, honestly.”
Mission accomplished: Block bounced back with birdies at 12 and 13 to climb back to a more-than-respectable one over by the time he slipped an AirPod in his ear on the 14th tee and began casually yammering with the boys in the booth.
Nerves? Nary a sign of them from Block, who needed all of a couple of minutes to fully charm the ESPN crew.
Block talked through his tee shot and how he was happy to leave it in the greenside bunker, which offers friendlier lies than the juicy rough. He spoke of Oak Hill’s bouncy fairways, which were beneficial to him and the other shorter-hitters in the field. He grinned at the thought of his pals back home at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, in Mission Viejo, clinking drinks for him in the grill room. All good stuff, but it got better still when Block started talking about another of his fields of expertise: teaching golf.
“The old Arnold Palmer [saying] ‘swing your swing’ is a huge thing for me,” he said. “I don’t teach one way. I teach what that person has the capability of doing and learning, and that’s been a huge benefit to teaching for the last 25 years or so for me. I’m not trying to teach anybody Tiger or Rory’s swing, because that’s just not going to happen. So you’ve got to be realistic with what you’ve got. You’ve got to be realistic with your capabilities and your goals. And that’s a big thing — I try to be honest with my guys. You know, the first couple of years, you’re out there and you’re winging it and telling everybody the same thing. Once you gain the confidence in your teaching or your playing, it just gets better.”
As Block played the 14th hole, his own confidence all but oozed out of him — not only through how he interacted with the broadcast team but with how he carried himself: pausing his commentary when his playing partners were hitting, strolling purposefully but unhurriedly in his white hoodie, hands tucked in his pockets.
When he arrived at his ball in the sand, Block even joked with Van Pelt, North and Strange about what kind of odds he could get on making a 3. When it was his turn to play, he removed his AirPod, stepped into the bunker and within seconds thumped the ball on to the green. He’d caught it heavier than he’d have liked, leaving the shot about 25 feet below the hole.
“Well, I’m dead now,” Van Pelt quipped, “because I just booked all the action on him getting up and down.”
Block missed the birdie try but he did pick up one more shot on the back nine — stuffing his approach at the 466-yard par-4 16th — and also holed a 22-footer at the 17th for a gritty par save. How good was his even-par 70? On a day when only 14 players, among those who finished, broke par, it was damn good.
“I’m not very happy at all being over par in my life no matter where I am,” Block said after his round. “When I’m even one over, whether it’s at a PGA Championship or at home playing against my kids, I’m just — I need to get back. It’s just how I am. So I made sure that I got back to even par, and I did, and I don’t care if it’s at a major or in a skins game on Tuesday back at my home club, it’s just how I roll. Honestly, it’s how I’m going to play the next three days.”
If he can somehow manage just a few strokes better than that, who knows, Block might just be in the mix come Sunday. And should that happen, here’s hoping they stick another mic in his ear.