Hollywood screenwriters might have rejected the script for being too unbelievable, but Michael Block would not be denied the storybook ending to his PGA Championship fairytale.
The 46-year-old – head pro at a public golf club in California – drilled a hole-in-one to put the gloss on a remarkable performance at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York on Sunday.
Needing a top-15 finish to stamp his ticket to the 106th edition of the major next year, Block followed up an ace three holes from the end with a superb par save at the death to seal a share of 15th place and $288,333 in prize money.
Or, based on what he charges for an hour-long session at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, 1,922 golf lessons.
It dwarfs Block’s most lucrative payout of $75,000, won at the Club Professional National Championship eight years ago. That marked the first and last time he ever cried, until Sunday.
“If it makes any sense, the one thing in the world that makes me cry is golf,” an emotional Block told reporters.
“If that puts into context as far as how much I love the game, you know now. It’s everything to me. Obviously I love my family and everything else and my job and everything, but golf is my life. I live it, breathe it.
“I made sure of one thing in my life: That I was going to drive to a golf course every day, whether it was as a caddy or an onsite service kid or an assistant pro or a head pro or general manager, I was going to be at a golf course.
“I came to the golf course today at Oak Hill and played in the PGA Championship.”
Back at Arroyo Trabuco, crowds bundled into the club bar to watch and cheer on the 10-time Southern Californian PGA Player of the Year. Some 2,600 miles away in Rochester, the din was just as loud.
Block captured hearts from the outset at Oak Hill, shooting back-to-back even-par 70’s in the opening two rounds to sail into the weekend just four shots off the top of the leaderboard.
One of twenty PGA Professionals to qualify for the tournament, Block had never before made the cut in any of his previous seven major outings. He had progressed to the weekend four times across his 24 PGA Tour appearances before this week, with his career-best performance a tied-69th finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2014.
A third successive 70 on Saturday saw him start the final round in tied-eighth, six shots behind leader and eventual champion Brooks Koepka. Much to his disbelief, it also secured his opportunity to play his last 18 holes alongside four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.
Block could not hide his excitement about getting a front row view of the Northern Irishman’s legendary swing, yet it was McIlroy who ultimately ended up with the best seat in the house for arguably the tournament’s most brilliant shot.
At the 15th tee, 151 yards from the flag, Block sent his ball sailing – without a bounce – into the cup. The crowd, raucous in their support of the underdog all week, erupted.
“So I hit it, and it’s just right at it, but I can’t see it … and all of sudden it disappears,” recalled Block, who was presented with the 15th flag during his post round press conference.
“I’m like, ‘Cool, thanks, guys.’ 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.’
“I go, ‘What? Seriously?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, you did.’ He had to tell me five times that I made it. So it was a pretty cool experience to have Rory be telling me that I made a hole-in-one in front of God knows how many people that were supporting me.”
‘Golf did it’
Despite a bogey at the subsequent 16th, Block finished with two pars to card one-over for the round and the tournament. Level with him; compatriot Eric Cole and England’s Tyrrell Hatton. Above him; 14 of the world’s best players.
Below him? Over a hundred, including many of the game’s greatest stars. From multiple major champions Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson to world No. 1 Jon Rahm, Block finished above all of them.
He will be reunited with many of them when he tees up at Colonial Country Club in Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge on Thursday, the next event on the PGA Tour calendar, with his tied-15th finish securing him a sponsor exemption.
It’s set to be another whirlwind few days in the most dizzying of weeks, but Arroyo Trabuco’s own is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
“I’m not trying to be anybody outside of myself,” Block said.
“Hopefully people gravitate toward it and appreciate it and be themselves and succeed in their goals as I have this week. They kind of documented my big goal this week was to be the low club pro; right? And that maybe meant shooting 9-over after two days and beating other guys and then shooting 25-over on the weekend.
“I could have been happy with that, but I wasn’t. I wanted to be low club pro but also changed my aspect and my thoughts about it, and just said, ‘Let’s finish as high as we can.’ I didn’t look at any leaderboards. Now that I know I’m 15th place and I made $288,000 … it’s insane that I did that playing golf.
“I love the fact that I sit in my backyard by my fire pit with my kids and my dog, and I always tell them this: Do you guys know that golf built this? Golf fed you tonight. Golf has the yard; Golf supplied the home that I have in Orange County, California. Golf did this for you guys.
“I always tell this to my kids that golf did it, and golf just did a little bit more for me this week.”