PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Michael Block recalled how only a week ago he was having drinks at the Pittsford Pub — a few par-5s away from where the PGA Championship was being held at Oak Hill in suburban Rochester, New York — and no one knew who he was.
On Sunday, the once little-known golf pro from California is heading back to the bar for a few — maybe more — celebratory drinks with his friends and family knowing his days of living in anonymity might be over for the near future.
Finishing in the top 15 at a major and making an ace during the final round with the entire sport watching will do that.
“We’re going to have a crazy good time tonight, and I look forward to it,” Block said with a beaming smile on Sunday after he lived out every hacker’s dream.
Over a four-day stretch at the brutish East Course, Block held his own against the best in the world, became a gallery favorite, conducted national television interviews between shots, made a hole-in-one, and posted a 1-over 281 to finish in a tie for 15th, which qualifies him to compete in the major next year. In doing so, he’s earned a payday of close to $290,000, which is far more than the $75,000 check he received for winning the 2014 Club Professional National Championship at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“My life’s changed. but my life’s only changed for the better,” the 46-year-old said. “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 been an epic experience.”
Oh, and to all those back at the Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club gearing up to party with him soon, you’ll have to wait. Shortly after walking off the 18th green following the trophy presentation he shared with tournament champion Brooks Koepka, Block received a phone call informing him he’s been invited to compete at the Colonial next week.
“I’m in next week as the last sponsor’s exemption, which is really even more mind-boggling now,” Block said. “This week’s been absolutely a dream. 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.”
Though in Block’s dreams he envisioned playing in the final group with Tiger Woods, he was more than happy to do so over a weekend in which he spent Saturday paired with Justin Rose and Sunday with Rory McIlroy.
What Block never could have imagined is having McIlroy, a four-time major champion, deliver the news of Block’s ace on the 151-yard, par-3 15th.
“So I hit it, and it’s just right at it, but I can’t see it, just like now, and all a sudden (the ball) disappears,” he said, comparing the bright lights in the interview room to the glare of the sun.
“Rory is walking down the pathway 20 yards away from me and turns around and starts walking back towards me with his arms open to give me a hug. And he goes, `You made it,‘” he said. “I go, `What? Seriously?’ He had to tell me five times that I made it.”
Block added another clutch shot in his round. That came at the 18th. After hitting his approach into the deep rough on a downslope left of the green, Block faced a blind chip shot to the green that settled 8 feet from the hole.
The ensuing par putt secured Block a place among the top 15 and ties, guaranteeing him a slot in next year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Block’s finish was the best for a club pro at the PGA Championship since Lonnie Nielsen finished in a tie for 11th in 1986 at Inverness Club. Not bad for a player who had never made the cut in six previous tries at a major.
“It’s incredible. I literally have no words. All day I’m going `Wow. Wow. Wow.′ I’m losing my voice and my hands hurt from clapping so hard,” Val Block said of her husband’s remarkable week. “He has worked for so long for something like this and he just deserves this. … I’m extremely proud of him. I’m so excited. We’re dreaming. We’re just dreaming.”
A dream that came true with a little help from Val, who told her husband to stay loose and be his outgoing self.
“I always believed in his game. I loved his swing. He has it,” she said. “He doesn’t need to pretend to be someone that he’s not. And finally, finally, he came and that’s who he is.”
Michael Block’s common-man approach resonated across Oak Hill. He was just as capable of making a joke or referring to himself as “the new John Daly, but I don’t have a mullet,” as he was growing emotional and breaking down in tears.
Following a post-tournament television interview that included footage of a packed bar at his golf club holding a watch party, Block grew so emotional he slipped into an empty tent to catch his breath.
His eyes welled again midway through his news conference when he referred to the advice he received from his wife and the general manager at his club.
“They told me just to be me and not be a club pro, but be a tour pro, which I guess I proved this weekend with a 15th place finish in a major that … ” Block said before stopping in mid-sentence. “That makes me choke up even more thinking about it.”
In the meantime, Block embraced the idea living out the dream of 29,000 PGA teaching professionals.
“I’m as normal as it gets; right? It’s a thing for me where I’m not trying to be an inspiration,” he said.
“I’m not trying to do anything, and that’s kind of the big deal is I’m not trying to be anybody outside of myself,” Block added. “Hopefully people gravitate toward it and appreciate it and be themselves and succeed in their goals as I have this week.”
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