How Michael Block became the PGA king — as told by those who know him best
How Michael Block became the PGA king — as told by those who know him best
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — What’s been your favorite moment from the PGA Championship’s king this week?
Has it been the showmanship? It’s been a sight to see. The quick tee grabs. The bobbing to music only he hears. The finger-pointing to fans after made putts. We’ve had all of that, especially Saturday.
Or has it been the earnestness? What you see is what you get here. They had asked the PGA Championship’s king on Friday what it was like to be beating Jon Rahm — you know, the world No. 1 — and he started to break down and talked about his club in California. He writes ‘Why not?’ on his golf ball — because why not. He’s happy to be here, thank you very much. That’s not fake. That’s no act. It’s genuine.
Or is it the play? The PGA Championship’s king may actually win this thing, too. On an Oak Hill Country Club East Course that’s chewing up the world’s best, he’s feasting. On Thursday, he shot an even-par 70. Friday, too. Saturday? Yep, 70 again, after a three-birdie back nine in the day-long deluge that soaked this beast of a course. Sunday, he plays with some dude named Rory. He’s just six back with 18 to go. Ahead of this week, the most he’s ever cashed for in an event is 75K. That could triple? Quadruple? You get the picture.
The beautiful thing is, folks who know the PGA Championship king best have seen all this before. They’re loving it, too. They want you to know him. That says something, doesn’t it? This is a 46-year-old club pro from Mission Viejo, Calif., who’s figured out who he is, and it’s a wonderful thing to hear.
So let’s just listen. In their words, here’s the story of their king, the PGA Championship’s king, Michael Block.
On Saturday morning, I reached out to his Mission Viejo workplace, the Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club. It’s a good place to start. We can give you some of the bio basics here. Block is the pro there. That’s how he’s here; the PGA Championship takes 20 PGA professionals. He’s a stick, too. According to a wonderful profile in The Athletic this week, he tried the professional playing route, but quickly gave it up. Still, he’s played some Tour events, making four cuts. He’s been the Southern California PGA Player of the Year 10 times. This is his fifth PGA and seventh major overall, but he’s never before made the weekend.
Until now. And that was part of the note I texted to Bob Lasken, a teaching pro at Arroyo. What’s everyone thinking? Could anyone have predicted this? Just who is this guy? Lasken texted back almost immediately, and we talked soon after that. How friendly is the Arroyo crowd? Their website shouts it to you from the get-go: “We love golf!” What’s not to love about that?
“Everyone is super excited,” Lasken said. “Like even his students were texting me and saying, can you believe this? Everyone is completely fired up, from the maintenance staff — when I drive in and park in the back near maintenance and go in there — the pro shop, the cart guys, everybody is just super excited for Michael.
“You know, when he plays in L.A. or San Diego, it’s the funniest thing, because he always ends up having the biggest galleries, unless Tiger’s there. I remember Ernie Els and Luke Donald looking over one time at Riviera and there’s like five people watching them and like 250 people around the green on 5 at Riv, and they’re like, who is that?”
250 people? What’s that following say about him?
“I think No. 1, he’s a real person. He’s a great dad. He’s a great husband. He’s the guy you want to go play nine holes with and you want him in your group and he’s fun, he’s fun to be around. You want to go have a beer after your round with him. He’s a great guy to hang around with. He’s super positive. Always upbeat, never down. He’s just a good guy. Who happens to be a great golfer.”
Did any of you guys see this coming?
“Other than the fact that he shot a 58 on a par-72 in a money game not too long ago. He shoots under 65 every other round. The guy plays great all the time. We’re actually not surprised at all.”
Yesterday in his press conference, he mentioned his students. How big are they in his life?
“Also as he said, he’s grown as a player, and he’s grown as a teacher. I think he’s really enjoying both a lot more because he’s really good at both of those things. When you share your knowledge with people and they get better, you’re at a great course, really it’s a great atmosphere. And it’s fun. You’re not even working — helping people out with their golf game, they’re hitting great golf shots. The atmosphere at the back is just very positive, very fun, lot of chatter is going on.”
“You all having a watch party this afternoon?”
“About every other adult student yesterday said I’m going in for a drink at O’Neill’s [the bar and grill at the course] and check out the buzz. Everybody — the guy bringing back the balls was talking. I’ll be teaching, but there will be a party at O’Neills every day.”
More on this a bit later.
‘I was wearing a sash and he just grabbed me by the sash’
Val Block is here. She’s his wife of 18 years. She’s from Argentina; Michael’s from Iowa. (“She will keep you down to earth more than anyone in the world,” Block said after his round. “She’s an Argentinian-Italian fireball that will tell me everything you don’t want to hear, but yeah, she’ll keep me down to earth like you have no idea.”) They’re the parents of two boys — Dylan, 18, and Ethan, 16, who are at home this week. They’re also golfers, and they are also playing. All the Blocks are good at this game.
Val is easy to spot. She’s jumping to the best spots along the ropes on Saturday. After a 15-foot par putt on 4, Block points in her direction. We talk as he’s on 5 tee.
“I can’t explain to you how exciting this is,” she said. “You know, he worked so hard for this. And to be able to make the cut in a major, it’s just — last night, my heart was beating out of my chest.”
When he started today and teed off among the leaders, what were you thinking?
“Well, first of all, I was taking really deep breaths. I was real nervous for him. He’s confident. We were all telling him last night, trust your swing, trust your game. So when I was there on the first hole, I was helping him — just do your thing.”
I don’t know if this is a difficult question, but what kind of dad is he?
“That’s not a difficult question actually. He’s an amazing dad. Both of my boys play golf, and they have the biggest support from my husband. Whatever they need, he is right there for them. He is just — I have nothing but amazing things to say. He’s an amazing dad. So my oldest, Dylan, he just made it to the sectionals for the U.S. Open and my husband is also going to go and he wants Dylan to go so much more than him. He just supports his kids more than anything. He also wants to show them that you have to believe in yourself to do it.”
I don’t know him all that well. How would you describe him to me?
“He is an extremely engaging person. He loves to talk to everyone and anyone. He’s an entertainer.”
We both laughed. The next questions were easy.
“He just loves big crowds, especially when people get happy for him.”
So this is perfect for him?
“Yeahhhh. During the national championships in New Mexico [the 2023 PGA Professional Championship], he would do things with his putter and entertain the crowd.”
How long did you guys meet?
“So we’ve been together for 20 years. We’ve been married for 18.”
Congratulations. Where did you guys meet?
“We met in Laguna Beach in California. Yeah, we went to the same birthday party and run into each other. I went back to Argentina, but then 20 days later, I came back and that was it.”
Who came up to who?
Val then hit me on the arm.
“Of course he came up to me! I was wearing a sash and he just grabbed me by the sash.”
‘I guarantee you there’s going to be an IPA in his hands after this round’
Walking with Val is Lyon Lazare, Michael’s friend. Lyon has known Michael for eight years. They play golf together. He knows Michael’s favorite beer. You know, the good stuff. But something jumps out when we catch up on 7: How he got here.
“First time we met, we were actually playing a skins game at his club, over at Arroyo. And I got to meet him. And one of my other best friends as well, too, worked as his first assistant. Kinda became close friends ever since.”
Came out here to watch him or do you live in the area?
“Came out here to watch him. I hopped on the plane last night and took the redeye.”
When he made the cut, you were like, ‘I got to get out there.’
“When he made the cut — I talked to him on Monday; I said, hey, if you make the cut, I’ll fly out there on Friday night. So sure enough, got the call and made the trip.”
What kinda guy is he?
“He is one of the nicest guys. He’s just very down to earth. He’s one of the boys. We like to have fun. We like to play golf. Overall, just one of the best guys. I mean, he’s one of my mentors; he’s one of my good friends. A lot of the people in Southern California, we look up to him as a PGA pro.”
You flew out here last night to see a guy — that’s got to say something about your guys’ friendship. That’s pretty incredible to me.
“Yeah, no, like I said, he’s one of my best friends. I know he would do the exact same for me as well. That’s the kind of guy he is. Got to root for him.”
Is he still the guy like he said in one of the press conferences that he’s going to just kick back, drink an IPA, watch golf and have a helluva time doing it?
“I guarantee you there’s going to be an IPA in his hands after this round.”
What’s the best IPA where you guys are at? What does he like to drink?
We shook hands and walked over to watch Michael hit his second shot, which hit a tree. He hit his third on. I had another question.
He doesn’t have to be out here to prove anything. And he’s already established who he is; he’s talked about that a little bit. Has that helped him this week? He’s kinda playing with house money is kind of a cliche way to say it.
“Yeah, 100 percent. I think he said it best earlier in the week, too — he’s not trying to be one of the Tour pros. He knows who he is, he’s playing within his own game…
Here, the crowd around 7 green drowns us out. Block saved par with an 18-footer. He points to the fans again.
“As you can see,” Lazare said.
He’s loving this right now, with the finger out pointing and everything.
“Absolutely, absolutely. He’s one for the people. He’s here for the crowd. He’s here to have a good time. He plays his best golf when he’s just here enjoying it and stays nice and relaxed and not trying to chase it. He’s doing that this week.”
‘This is from Bobby? Oh my god. Are you kidding me?’
Back to Lasken, the teaching pro at Arroyo. I had asked him to send me a pic if there were a watch party. He did one better. He sent me a video. After Block made the interview rounds, I showed it to him.
So I was reaching out to him …
In the video — or the start of the video; he actually hasn’t hit play yet — are about 25 folks at O’Neills at Arroyo Trabuco. The PGA is playing on TVs in the background. They’re drinking. They’re yelling. “Let’s go Blockie” is the chant. Their king is the PGA Championship’s king.
Blocks turns away. In his press conference, he warned reporters not to make him cry. He did on Friday. But this was too good. Now he watches it.
“I have the best members in the world.”
Who are those guys?
“The same guys that have been there for 19 years. They were supporting me — same crowd, same place, same everything — when I won the 2014 national club professional championship. It’s amazing. I’ve been there for almost 19 years. These are great friends and people and great members and the support system there at O’Neill’s and at Arroyo is second to none. I’m very lucky to have it.
“And it makes the hole look bigger when I come to these things and it’s because of them.”