Michael Block struggles through Charles Schwab Challenge, but fanfare remains for ‘legend’ among club pros

FORT WORTH, Texas — Michael Block fought through tears the best he could Thursday as he walked off the 18th green at Colonial Country Club, headed for the clubhouse to sign his scorecard. 

For the 46-year-old PGA professional out of Southern California, a 15-over showing — including a Thursday 81 — to end his 2023 Charles Schwab Challenge run on Friday was hardly the encore to his magical run at 2023 PGA Championship he envisioned. It was there that Block, among the handful of PGA professionals annually selected to play the event, made anything feel possible for golfers of all skill levels. The top-15 finish also earned him both the instant adoration of the golf world and a sponsor’s exemption to tee it up at Hogan’s Alley this week. 

On Thursday, the phrase “one of us!” was shouted by one of the many enthusiastic spectators following Block, playing alongside Min Woo Lee and Pierceson Coody. And while most avid golfers have never experienced the pressure of playing in a PGA Tour event, almost everyone who has picked up a golf club has, at some point, endured a round eliciting the feelings that America’s new favorite club pro endured.

“If you play golf, you know exactly what just happened,” Block said. “So I don’t really need to explain [my round] too much because, if you are a golfer, you’ve had the day I’ve had. You understand the facts of where the lies aren’t good and the trees are in your way every time.” 

There were moments from Block on Thursday that recaptured the magic from Oak Hill Country Club, including a near ace on the par-3 4th. There were also shots that were far more relatable to onlookers, including skulled approach, a duffed pitch into a bunker and even a drive that came to rest on a cart path bridge before Block opted to play his shot off the concrete.

None of that — even as Block ended the day sitting alone in last place and 19 shots off the lead — changed the fact that, for another week, he beat the odds by living out what most teaching professionals can only dream of while becoming golf’s biggest sensation virtually overnight. 

For a non-elevated event held immediately after a major championship, boasting 23 of the top-50 ranked players in the world was a major victory for tournament organizers at Colonial. Yet for all the star power in the field, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler included, no entrant had an arrival on par with the fanfare accompanying Block, who sat well outside the top 3,000 just last week in the Official World Golf Rankings before skyrocketing to No. 577.

The enthusiasm shown toward golf’s new folk hero was steady from start to finish through Thursday’s rollercoaster as Block plodded his way around the course. The sea of smartphones raised to capture footage of Block adjacent to first tee was a scene often reserved for the game’s heavy hitters. Custom-made “Block Party” shirts and signs could not be missed, and Block wasn’t afraid to engage in back-and-forth banter with some of his more vocal supporters mid-round — a sight rarely, if ever, seen from full-time touring pros.

For those closest to Block, including a traveling contingent on hand from his home club of Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, the continued embrace from the general public was hardly a surprise given the manner in which Block is cherished back home. 

“To hear all the comments as you walk through the crowd is just wonderful,” Matthew Donovan, the club’s general manager, told CBS Sports during Thursday’s round. “And everyone has portrayed exactly the man who [Michael] is. That is the Michael we know. It’s just fantastic.” 

They’ll also be quick to tell you the performance Block put on at the PGA to merely afford himself this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was no surprise either. Not based on the clip Block was playing at in the months prior, at least, stemming from a methodical change to his approach to the game based on the limitations of a player his age. 

“[Michael] has always had that special something in his game,” Geoff Cram, Arroyo Trabuco’s director of operations and an employee at the club since its opening, told CBS Sports. “I think he really was trying to play a different game. He was trying to keep up with the other guys, guys that are much younger than him and hit the ball much further than him. Then he decided, ‘I’ve got to play the game I have got.’ I think he really fell into a groove and he was able to piece it all together.” 

Fellow instructor Bob Lasken, who has taught alongside Block since Arroyo Trabuco’s infant days in 2004, can attest to those efforts to change his approach within the competitive arena of golf. 

“To me, [slowing his game down] is tremendous growth for him,” Lasken told CBS Sports in a phone interview. “It was not that way before. When you have a player like that getting chances to play, and he’s getting better and growing, he ends up with this [opportunity].”

It’s been several years since Block set the course record at Arroyo Trabuco when he carded a 59 in 2019. But an attention-getter came less than two months ago when Block carded a 58 during a member event on the nearby north course at Coto De Caza Golf and Racquet Club, a jarring feat at one of the most challenging courses Orange County, California, has to offer.

Perhaps even more indicative of what was coming for Block transpired a short drive north at Shady Canyon Country Club in Irvine, California. According to Lasken, Block played a match with world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay — who hails from the same region — in which the eight-time PGA Tour winner gave Block one stroke on each nine. Block never came close to needing those extra strokes, shooting a 65 while Cantlay settled for a 70. 

“That went a long way,” Lasken said. “When you have that confidence against the No. 4 player in the world, and then you are out there at the PGA Championship, you are like ‘I have smoked these guys. I can do this.'” 

Lo and behold, Block’s challenges at the Charles Schwab Challenge were a reminder of just how great the gap is even between certified teaching pros — still far more equipped to play on this stage than most — and those who make a living competing on this circuit. Block entered Colonial with 25 previous starts on the PGA Tour, primary among the Southern California stops, though only four of those resulted in him making the cut. Souring the hopes of many, a fifth won’t be in the cards this weekend. 

But much like the praise from his supporters this week at Colonial, the reception Block received from the top touring pros on hand didn’t hinge on what his scorecard looked like. And fitting for an instructor by trade, the lesson Block taught some of the game’s biggest names was far greater than anything to do with the mechanics of a swing. 

“You’ll look back and think of a couple of weeks in your life, and this may be one of the best ones I’ve had,” Jordan Spieth said of Block’s run. “It’s like, man, we [as touring pros] get to do that every week. I think if you can kind of help keep that perspective and be a little more like Michael Block week-to-week, it would be a good thing for all of us.”

World No. 7-ranked Max Homa went as far as giving Block, whom he was already familiar with from his Southern California upbringing, the “legend” label given Block’s ability to reach a point where few instructors have gone. 

“There are some [PGA professionals] that are — you know, play some golf,” Homa said. “Some don’t really play [competitively] much at all anymore. And then you have some people like Michael that are still tremendous at golf. I think that’s what kind of brings the legend of them around. You hear about these people. You see them. You play events with them. So I think that’s where that comes from.”

If there was any doubt about the impact Block has made on the golfing community, the scene back home at Arroyo Trabuco should do all the talking. Between an influx of out-of-state callers seeking to book tee times and lessons at the club to virtually all Arroyo Trabuco-branded gear selling out in wake of Block’s rise, nobody ever anticipated something of this magnitude.

Other newfound Block fanatics, meanwhile, have contacted the club simply to convey a message of gratitude. 

“It hast just been crazy,” Cram said. “There is an outpouring of support. We have people calling in all the time wishing [Michael] luck and saying they saw him on TV and were inspired by him. 

“We had one person reply through the website that they were quitting golf. Then they watched Michael, and they decided not to [quit]. They decided to give it one more shot. If he is inspiring people to stay in the game of golf, that is great.” 

As described by Lasken, what has long been a local “Block party” has now been taken to a national level.  

“He’s always been supported at Arroyo,” Lasken said. “He’s just such a great guy. Now, everyone else is understanding why we have supported him so much.” 

Through all of that, Block’s lone request is that his coworkers — Lasken, Donovan and Cram included — receive their fair share of the credit for fostering the culture at a club that has allowed Block to make this dream a reality. 

“Our club has been doing great prior to this,” Block said. “It will always be doing great one way or the other, whether this happens or not, with or without me.”

Only so often does true mania surround such a golfer. For years, golf basked in “Tiger mania” as Tiger Woods dominated golf at a clip that may never be touched again; an injury-ridden Woods still moves the needle like no one else 26 years after his first of 15 career major wins at the 1997 Masters. 

“Block mania,” if such a term is appropriate, may only be a footnote compared to what Woods did for the sport. Granted, there is still another opportunity for Block play alongside the game’s best next month after earning an additional exemption into the RBC Canadian Open outside Toronto. The 2023 U.S. Open Championship at the Los Angeles Country Club also remains in play for both Block and his eldest of two sons, Dylan, after both secured their spots for final qualifying in the coming weeks. 

But that doesn’t change the fact that this fairytale-like ride, as all good things do, will eventually end for in one form or another.

If the “Block party” was indeed halted once and for all Friday in the Lone Star State, Block knows the flight back to Southern California will end with a welcome home from his family, friends and students that will be unparalleled. And for all the highs and lows of this journey, that makes every second of it worthwhile. 

“I’m going to live with it,” Block said. “I thought [a bad round] was going to happen that third or fourth round last week at Oak Hill, and it never happened. It happened [Thursday], and I wasn’t surprised by it, to tell you the truth. The experience I had that last week was next level. … It is what it is. 

“At the same time, I sat there, and I thought about it, and I said, ‘I’m going to see my boys [Friday] night.'” 

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles