If you were looking for tears Sunday at the PGA Championship, there were none to be had in the day’s final two-ball. Brooks Koepka was happy, joyous even, following his victory at Oak Hill, but Brooks doesn’t really do tears, at least not publicly, and runner-up Viktor Hovland had a happy-to-be-there vibe after finishing two shots off the pace.
Fortunately for the sentimental types, there was Michael Block.
Block choked back his emotions Friday at Oak Hill when he made the cut at the PGA Championship. He was emotional, again, late Saturday when he found himself six shots off the lead and in the day’s fourth-to-last group paired alongside Rory McIlroy for the final round. And when he closed his week with a magical 71, the water works were quick to follow.
Full-field scores from the PGA Championship
Even when his week was complete and he was tucked away from the fans who cheered his every step, there were tears when Michael Toth, the tournament director of Charles Schwab Challenge, called to inform him he’d received a sponsor’s exemption into next week’s Tour event: “Don’t tell me what you’re going to tell me because if you tell me I’m going to start crying,” Block said.
If Koepka as a feel-good story was hard to follow – and depending on which side of the PGA Tour-LIV Golf divide you fall it seems a decent chance it was – Block provided the perfect outlet. A 40-something with a “day job” moonlighting as a major championship contender with not even the slightest hint of pretentiousness or false pride.
You didn’t need a reason to root for Block. You needed tissues to wipe away the tears.
There wasn’t a dry eye when the 46-year-old club professional from Mission Viejo, Calif., crossed the bridge to the first tee. The roars echoed across Oak Hill and McIlroy, the world No. 3 and a member of the club, could only laugh.
From the outset, Block gave the golf world every reason to celebrate him as a wonderfully perfect anomaly, an endearing everyman who connects to Tour pros as easily as he does the weekend hackers.
Those sensibilities were there on Friday when he was asked about his tee shot at No. 5, which sailed well right of the green and was dubbed in most media circles a shank.
“In my head I'm going, you have got to be kidding me right now. I've been flushing it all day. Last couple days the driving range is like a video game. I see that, and I'm, like, oh, here it comes,” laughed Block, who recovered from his miscue and finished with a second-round 70.
After an equally impressive 70 in hellish conditions Saturday, he was asked how he stayed grounded: “Stay down to earth? Hmm. Have you met my wife?” he deadpanned.
And on Sunday following a magical final round he put the perfect words to the emotional picture.
“I didn't cry when I had my kids. I cried [today], for some reason. If you love golf, you know. I cry about golf, to be honest,” said Block, who tied for 15th to secure himself a spot in next year’s PGA Championship. “I have cried only a couple times in my life. When I won the [PGA Club Pro] national championship in 2014 in Myrtle Beach. At The Dunes Club I cried. And after that, my wife hasn't seen me cry until this week.
“If it makes any sense, the one thing in the world that makes me cry is golf. If that puts into context as far as how much I love the game, you know now. It's everything to me.”
Koepka was the champion, McIlroy the sentimental favorite thanks to his ties to the area, but Block was the ultimate Cinderella story. He was greeted with a raucous ovation on the first tee, cheered along the way even when he bogeyed Nos. 1 and 7, and when his tee shot crashed into the hole at the par-3 15th, the entire course erupted in celebration.
Block, who didn’t see his tee shot go into the hole, was initially confused.
“I hit it, and it's just right at it, but I can't see it, and all of the sudden it disappears, whatever. I'm like, cool. I'm like, thanks, guys. Rory is walking down the pathway 20 yards away from me and turns around and starts walking back towards me with his arms open to give me a hug. And he goes, “you made it,” Block explained. “I go, what? I'm like, seriously?”
McIlroy was more than happy to celebrate the moment with Block and a few thousand of their closest friends. At the highest level the game can become insular and cold, so when given the chance the Northern Irishman easily embraced Block’s story.
“It was an amazing golf shot,” McIlroy said. “That hole has sort of given me fits all week. 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. It was I guess sort of when it's your week, it's your week in a way, and you know, I think with the way the week's went for him, it was a fitting way to cap off his PGA Championship.”
Actually, Block capped off his week with tears of joy and appreciation for a “dream come true.”