By WILL GRAVES (AP Sports Writer)
PITTSFORD, N.Y. (AP) — Michael Block is supposed to work on Monday, just like nearly every other PGA club professional this time of year.
The 46-year-old’s daily routine at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Southern California is a mixture of lessons and paperwork. It’s typically followed by an early evening visit from teenage sons Dylan and Ethan, aspiring golfers who can already blow it way past their dad off the tee.
Block wouldn’t have it any other way. The lure of being a touring professional vanished long ago. The appeal of chasing a PGA Tour card was heavily outweighed by a steady paycheck that lets him play and teach the game he loves without worrying about missing a mortgage payment.
Besides, there’s still room to dream. Room to have rounds like the one Block put together on Friday at the PGA Championship, when his name floated near the top of the leaderboard at Oak Hill surrounded by players far more famous.
Hitting balls with his “why not” personal mantra stamped on them and getting cheered at every turn by a gallery littered with some of the PGA’s 29,000 other teaching pros, Block fired a second straight even-par 70 and was five shots behind co-leaders Scottie Scheffler, Corey Conners and Viktor Hovland heading into the weekend.
“I feel like I’ve got the game this week to compete, to tell you the truth,” Block said after becoming just the third club pro in the last 40 years to rank in the top 10 through 36 holes. “I feel like I could shoot even par out here every day. I feel like at the end of the four days that that might be a pretty good result.”
It certainly was after two days.
Block’s nearly four-hour tour of the East Course included three birdies in his first five holes, a stretch that vaulted him into second behind first-round leader Bryson DeChambeau. He knew he had it going before his touch briefly vanished on his closing nine. He bogeyed the par-5 fourth despite having a lob wedge in his hand on his approach. He followed by shanking an 8-iron off the tee on the par-3 fifth, when only a fortunate bounce off a tree limb prevented the ball from sailing out of bounds and into someone’s backyard.
Earlier in his career, it may have sent Block into a free fall. He doesn’t do that anymore. The instructor who tells his students the importance of “spiraling upward” shook off the ensuing double bogey to par each of his final four holes. It forced him to cancel his scheduled flight back to California on Saturday morning.
Booking a flight home so early wasn’t so much about a lack of confidence but practicality. While Block believes he’s “pretty darn close” to the level of Cantlay and Hossler, he also knows he arrived in Western New York having never made the weekend in six tries at majors.
He has now. So easily it’s not difficult for Block to let the mind wander. While not the longest hitter — Block joked his 18-year-old son Dylan can blast it 70 yards by him — a driver switch at “oh dark 30” on Wednesday night has given Block enough length off the tee that he doesn’t have to hit mid-irons into the greens.
His putter is fine. His nerves, too. The fear that he didn’t belong out here vanished a year ago at Southern Hills. Playing a handful of groups ahead of a pairing that included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, Block shot a 2-over 73 in the second round.
“My (boss) even said, ‘That was you not being a club pro anymore,’” Block said.
It was meant as a compliment. Yet it’s also telling of how teaching professionals are often regarded, as good players to be sure, just not quite good enough to regularly go up against the world’s best.
It’s a path Block considered taking — albeit reluctantly — earlier in his career. At the urging of his inner circle, he went to PGA Tour qualifying school in 2007. He didn’t make it out of the second stage, a wave of relief washing over him when he headed back home to his young family.
Some guys are cut out for the tour. Some are better suited for passing their golf knowledge along to others while getting their competitive fix when and where they can. Block is a star in the Southern California PGA, where he’s been named the Player of the Year nine times in the last decade.
He knows the gap between himself and the millionaires he’s playing alongside this weekend is small. Yet he knows it exists. And rather than spending Dylan and Ethan’s childhoods trying to close it, he’s been home instead. It’s a tradeoff he’ll take every time.
Later this month, both Dylan and his dad will try to qualify for the U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club just an hour up the road. If Block had spent the last 15 years trying to punch his PGA Tour card, who knows if father and son would ever get that moment?
Besides, the PGA still gives the backbone of its organization a chance to live the dream. Block made it to Oak Hill because he finished in the top 20 at the PGA Professional Championship.
He’s sticking around because … why not?
“I’m going to compete,” he said. “I promise you that.”
Even if it means he’ll miss work on Monday.
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