PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Michael Block looked at Rory McIlroy and asked, “It didn’t go in, did it?”
All Block knew at that moment was that the crowd was losing its collective mind, a din that became more and more familiar to him throughout the week at Oak Hill Country Club. The 46-year-old club professional was floating through a waking dream, making noise at the PGA Championship and earning the title of “the people’s champ” along the way.
Block added an exclamation point to his remarkable week by dunking a hole-in-one at the par-3 15th hole, then saving par in dramatic fashion at No. 18 to sign for a 71.
The head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., finished tied for 15th at 1-over 281. It was the best finish for a club professional at the PGA Championship since Lonnie Nielsen tied for 11th in 1986.
Being inside the top 15 ensured Block would be exempt into next year’s PGA Championship. He won’t have to play the annual PGA Professional Championship to qualify, as he has done in years past.
Block also was awarded an exemption into next week’s PGA Tour event, the Charles Schwab Challenge.
“It’s been a surreal experience, and I had this weird kind of sensation that life is going to be not quite the same moving forward,” Block said.
“But only in a good way, which is cool.”
The downhill 15th hole was playing 151 yards on Sunday, and Block’s tee shot landed directly in the hole without a bounce. His ball caused some damage to the side of the cup as it flew in.
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McIlroy was the first to congratulate him with a high-five and pats on the chest. He knew it was a hole-in-one. Block needed more convincing.
“He had to tell me five times that I made it,” Block said. “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.”
Block said Sunday he’d always had a vision of coming down the stretch at a major, playing in a pairing with Tiger Woods. McIlroy, the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland and one of the most popular players in the world, was a fine stand-in for Woods.
McIlroy’s takeaway from the fairy tale moment: When it’s your week, it’s your week.
“That hole has sort of given me fits all week,” McIlroy said. “I haven’t really liked the look of it, and Michael stands up and hits this lovely little draw back into off the left wind, and you know, ball goes straight in the hole.”
Block’s second shot at the par-4 18th missed badly left, and he went under the ropes to play his next shot. He chopped it out onto the green and left himself just 7 1/2 feet to convert the par.
He didn’t want to know the stakes at the time.
“I had no idea where I was,” Block said. “And if you put me at 120 yards out on 17, hitting my third shot, and if you put me on 18 hitting my third shot from that 40-yard sidehill lie out of the rough to a tight pin on 18, and you’re telling me I’m going to get up-and-down on both of those to make next year’s PGA Championship, there’s no way in God’s green earth I would have done it.”
Block opened the week with three straight rounds of even-par 70 on a course that hindered some of the world’s elite golfers. He also did “walk-and-talk” interviews during his rounds on Thursday with ESPN and Saturday with CBS, showcasing a charming attitude combined with a “Why not me?” mentality.
“I’m as normal as it gets, right?” Block said. “It’s a thing for me where I’m not trying to be an inspiration. … I’m not trying to be anybody outside of myself. Hopefully, people gravitate toward it and appreciate it and be themselves and succeed in their goals as I have this week.”
And when you’re the people’s champ, you celebrate with the people.
“I was at the Pittsford Pub on Sunday night. Not one single person knew me,” Block said. “I’m going to go there in about an hour, and it’s going to be on.”
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media