Ever heard of Tommy Aycock and Lonnie Nielsen? Props if you have. Aycock tied for 11th at the 1974 PGA Championship at Tanglewood Park, in Clemmons, N.C., and 12 years later, Nielsen matched the feat at the 1986 edition at Inverness Club, in Toledo, Ohio. Their finishes were significant because both players were club professionals, and in the 105-year history of the PGA Championship, no other club pro has placed higher.
Nope, not even Michael Block.
Ever heard of Michael Block? Of course you have! If you were anywhere near a phone, television or grill room over the past four days, surely Block — who also is a club professional, from the Southern California section — crossed your radar as he unexpectedly ascended the leaderboard at the 105th PGA Championship. With three remarkably steady rounds of even-par 70 capped by a one-over 71, Block tied for 15th in the season’s second major. Among the players he beat: Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Dustin Johnson and so many other major-winners and Ryder Cuppers.
Aycock and Nielson have not gone down in golf lore in large part because they came along at the wrong time. They achieved history in an era with limited TV coverage, no streaming, no walk-and-talks, no Instagram or TikTok. Block, on the other hand? Oooh, boy, did he ever work his magic and charm at precisely the right time.
On Thursday, Block captured golf fans’ attention when he did a live interview with ESPN broadcasters Scott Van Pelt, Andy North and Curtis Strange in the midst of a nifty opening round that featured five birdies. On Friday, another making-it-look-easy round had him squarely in the hunt through 36. On Saturday came another mid-round chat on air, this time with Jim Nantz and Trevor Immelman. And on Sunday, well, Block all but broke Twitter (assuming you’re in the camp that believes Twitter still works) when on the par-3 15th hole his tee shot vanished into the cup. No bounce. No roll. No dramatic prelude. Swallowed alive. “The fairytale story…” Nantz said on the call for CBS, “…gets better!”
Block’s feel-good week has indeed felt like a work of fiction, which might have you wondering, What’s the next chapter?! As Block describes it, he didn’t even play extraordinary golf at Oak Hill. He simply played his game. “Blocky golf,” he said, “hit fairways, hit little baby cuts out there. Putted how I normally do. The greens were perfect here. So the hole looks huge to me.”
So why not try and do that every week? Why not try taking his game to the Korn Ferry Tour with an eye on graduating to the PGA Tour, or, in three years or so — he turns 47 next month — make a run at the PGA Tour Champions? Block proved this week he can hang with the best players in the world and perform on one of the biggest stages in golf. So how ’bout it?
“No, I don’t want to play any tours,” Block told Golf Channel’s Rich Lerner on Sunday evening. “I just want to come out and compete when I’m around and then go back to my club and hang out with my family.”
It might surprise you — or even mildly irk you — to hear that a player of Block’s talent wouldn’t want to push his competitive limits and see how far his ability can take him. But to have that opinion is to not understand Block’s DNA.
He’s not just a player. He’s a teacher, a mentor, a husband, a father of two teenage sons, a dog-lover, a talker, a schmoozer. Yes, he loves to compete and has done so, sporadically, at the highest level; before this week he’d played in four PGA Championships, two U.S. Opens and 18 other PGA Tour events, making the cut in three of them. He’s a 10-time Southern California PGA Player of the Year (smart money says he makes it 11 this year). He plays money games at home against Tour pros Patrick Cantlay and Beau Hossler. Next week, he’ll be playing in Fort Worth, Texas, at the Colonial, which wisely extended him an invitation Sunday evening. The dude can flat-out ball.
But true to his club-pro roots Block also loves so many other elements of the game: giving $125 lessons at Arroyo Trabuco, his workplace in Mission Viejo, Calif.; BS-ing with the grounds crew; shaping young minds. “I love kids,” he said after his round Sunday. “When I see the kid out there with his hand out to give me five, I had a really big issue with passing him by or her by, I really do. If you would have watched me today, I had 80 hands out, but this little thing was down here, right, and I’m like, I’m giving that one five right there, you know, no matter what. Whether I just made double-bogey, bogey or an eagle, I’m going to go give that person a high five. That’s how it is. I was born that way, and my parents raised me that way. I’m just having a good time.”
That mindset proved priceless for Block at Oak Hill. As he stayed in contention and crept up a leaderboard full of superstars, he didn’t put on blinders and block out the world — conversely, he let everyone in: fans on site, broadcasters, the viewing audience, his fellow players, who by the end of the week were seeking him out. “Inside the clubhouse here at Oak Hill, every single one of them that saw me was like, ‘Keep it up, do it,’” Block said. On Saturday morning, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson tracked down Block on the practice green and said, “Just keep being you.”
Which is exactly the advice Block got from his wife, Val, and caddie John Jackson last year: be yourself — a competitor when you need to compete, a teacher when you need to teach, a father when you need to parent — and good things will happen.
“So I’m comfortable,” Block said Sunday evening of the pressure-cooker he faced at Oak Hill. “I’m happy. I’m kind of built for this, to tell you the truth. … I guess I proved this weekend with a 15th place in a major that — I mean, that makes me choke up even thinking. I didn’t think about it yet, but I got 15th place in a major championship.”
Four places behind Aycock and Nielsen, but, yeah, still one hell of a week.