ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Michael Block didn’t win the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club, but it’s easy to believe he won just about everything else that mattered during four scintillating storybook days in the 105th PGA Championship. He won over the toughest sporting crowd in America. He won admiration and respect both for himself and his profession. He won a lifetime of memories most people never come close to realizing.And he won a little something for golf, too—a newfound appreciation for its magic.
It wasn’t enough that the California club pro had captured hearts and minds with his surprisingly solid play through the first three rounds at Oak Hill’s sturdy East Course. He had to go for an encore, and he did that with a slam-dunk ace at the par-3 15th hole that sent the gallery into delirium and had them chanting his name.Block never saw his 7-iron go straight into the cup, and neither did his caddie, John Jackson. But his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, the four-time major winner, witnessed the lightning bolt and walked backward to offer an embrace.“It was right at the hole, and I figured it was five or 10 feet, but I wondered why the crowd was going nuts,” Block, 46, said. “Then Rory walked back to me and I’m thinking, ‘Rory gives out hugs when you hit it to five feet?”The New York denizens wrapped him in their embrace all day. So he gave them one last reason to cheer. After pulling his approach to the 18th green well left of the green, Block somehow got up and down from the trampled rough, hitting a flop shot from some 32 yards to seven feet and then trickling in the par save that had more meaning than he knew.
Refusing to look at a scoreboard, Block, who began the day tied for eighth, didn’t find out until after signing for a one-over 71 that his final stroke enabled him to retain a share of 15th place, which earns him an exemption into the 2024 PGA at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. He completed the championship in one-over 281, tied with Tyrell Hatton and Eric Cole and posted the best finish by a club professional since Lonnie Nielsen was T-11 in 1986 at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.“That was amazing,” McIlroy said to Block’s wife Val, giving her a hug of congratulations.“I guess sort of when it’s your week, it’s your week in a way,” McIlroy said in the aftermath, again using the word amazing to describe his playing partner and the shot heard all the way across the country. “I think with the way the week’s went for him, it [the hole-in-one] was a fitting way to cap off his PGA Championship.”