Michael Block: “People have offered to fly from England for a lesson with me”

The 47-year-old club pro on upstaging Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship, rubbing shoulders with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Max Verstappen, and why his short game is among the best in the world.

Michael Block didn’t win the PGA Championship last May, but it sure did feel like it after he was paraded as the people’s champion at Oak Hill.

By his own admission, he has been living the dream ever since that storybook Sunday finish in May. Sure, there have been new sponsorships and exemptions to play in other PGA Tour events, but he also tied the course record at Valhalla and won a charity event alongside DJ Khaled and Bubba Watson.

He followed it up with an albatross, the ninth of his career, and spent the rest of autumn making headlines on podcasts and hanging out with the Red Bull F1 team in Qatar.

Did we also mention that he earned an invite to play in Tiger’s private tournament at Monterey Peninsula, Spyglass Hill and Pebble Beach? Well, he did that too – and he’s got the pictures to prove it.

We would argue that his is the best story to come out of 2023, which is why we tracked him down at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in California, to reflect on his new-found fame and fortune. The following revelations would suggest there are plenty more chapters to come.

Michael Block was paraded as the people's champion at Oak Hill.

Q. Congratulations on being included in our Top 100 Most Influential People in Golf list for 2023. Can you sum up how crazy this year has been for you?

The first five months were pretty normal and the last five months have been absolute insanity. It’s been crazy.

Q. How much has your life changed since the PGA Championship in May?

I mean, I’m sitting in my office. I’m still running a golf course, but I haven’t taught a single lesson since then.
I haven’t had the time. I’ve been on the road so much.

Michael Block was invited to play in Tiger's private tournament at Pebble Beach.

Q. What’s been the biggest ‘pinch yourself’ moment you’ve had?

Just the people I’ve met, like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. I’ve been pretty used to the PGA Tour world but I wasn’t used to the celebrity world. I got a text from Michael Jordan on Sunday night of the PGA saying that he’s proud of me. That was really cool because I wear Jordans and he’s my idol.

I also went over to Qatar a few weeks ago and hung out with Max Verstappen and Checo (Sergio Perez) with the Red Bull Racing team. It’s been that kind of deal, just living my best life.

Q. Did you surprise yourself at the PGA Championship, contending as well as you did and beating some of the best players in the world?

Man, I surprised the hell out of myself there. My whole goal was just to make the cut. But then, all of a sudden, these things kept lining up – being paired with Rosey (Justin Rose) on Saturday, being paired with Rory on Sunday, making a hole-in-one, getting up and down on 17 and 18 to save my butt, and finishing tied for 15th to get into the PGA next year. It was just like a dream scenario from beginning to end.

Rory McIlroy was paired with Michael Block in the final round of the 2023 PGA Championship.

Q. What were the nerves like, playing with Rory?

I was actually a lot calmer than I expected. I was more nervous having breakfast. As soon as I got to the driving range, those nerves started to go away. That’s where I’m by far the most comfortable, hitting balls. I mean, I’ve been doing this for 44 years, so I wasn’t shaking in my boots or anything like that. 

I was lucky that the New York fans were so behind me and I was also so lucky that I was paired Rosey, who was amazing. Just a super nice guy, talking about family the whole time. It was the same with Rory. My pairings couldn’t have been better.

Q. Was it hard to blank out how much money was riding on each shot coming down the stretch?

I didn’t know about the money and I didn’t want to know. I did know that the top 15 and ties got into the PGA next year and I did know that the top four and ties got into the Masters. That was the big thing for me because I’ve never played at Augusta.

I started in eighth place and I figured something under par would maybe get me tied for fourth. I shot one over
in the end, but I didn’t think I’d drop all the way to 15th.

When I made the putt on 18, I knew it was going to help. But I made sure I never looked at the gigantic leaderboard until I holed the putt. That’s when I realized that it was for 15th. I mean, of course it was. That was just how the whole weekend went.

Michael Block hung out with the Red Bull F1 team in Qatar.

Q. How big was your bar tab after making that hole-in-one on Sunday?

Well, we had some cocktails and then I went to this big celebration thing for Brooks (Koepka) and myself and it was all hosted! I was a very lucky man with that.

Q. You won $288,000 for your efforts. How do you plan to spend it?

We’re waiting for tax season to come around here and I’m going to get absolutely annihilated this year. But that’s a good thing, I guess. That cheque was the biggest cheque I’ve ever received.

I don’t plan on moving anywhere. I still drive the same truck. I still come to work. Nothing’s changed yet.

Q. Has it been hard going back to your day job?

Not at all, I love my day job. I love my office here. I love the employees and the members here. It’s seven minutes from my house and I’ve been here since it opened in 2004.

I’m very lucky to have it because I’m not going to go on tour next year. I need a steady pay cheque. My sponsorships and the money from the PGA aren’t going to allow me to retire, so I’ll be here for another five years, 10 years max.

DJ Khaled celebrating a celebrity pro-am victory with Michael Block.

Q. We saw you partnered DJ Khaled at a pro-am this summer. How many celebrities have you got in your phonebook now?

I’ll tell you what, my contact list has gotten much improved over the last six months. It’s insane. But everyone has been so nice. Khaled is such a great guy, he’s so addicted to golf and he’s really helping to grow the game, which is near and dear to me as a PGA professional. I was lucky enough to be on his team with Bubba Watson and another gentleman named ‘The-Dream’, so it was cool.

Q. Have you run out of paid vacation days yet?

Oh, yeah. I ran out of those in mid-May. But that’s one of the best things about this place. They 100 percent support my playing.

Q. Do you plan to get back into teaching?

I’m not the biggest fan of standing on the driving range for an hour. I much prefer a playing lesson. I like to teach people how to play golf, not swing a club.

People aren’t going to hit a drive like Rory McIlroy, but they can all think like a pro. A lot of people don’t think they are good enough or smart enough, but that’s just stupid. If you think better, you can play better. That’s how I like to teach. 

Michael Block almost upstaged Brooks Koepka at Oak Hill.

Q. Will you be putting your prices up?

(Laughs) Yeah, I’d be lying if I said they are not going to increase!

Q. How many lesson requests have you had?

Gosh, so many. Thousands upon thousands. People have offered to fly in from England. 

Q. You’ve described your short game and putting as world class. What’s your secret?

Well, the short game saves my butt because I’m not really that long. The courses on tour are crazy long and I hit so many 4-irons at the PGA. I rely a lot on my chipping, my bunker play and my putting. I’ve had the same putter for 25 years and I would really recommend that. I know exactly how it feels and I have so much touch with it because I’ve been using it for so long.

I have had so many students in the past who come to me with a new Scottie or Odyssey; one’s face-balanced, the other is toe hang, and they don’t even know the difference.

I always come back to knowing what you’ve got, going to bed with it and making sure it looks good to your eye. You’ve got to be able to see the correct line so when I stand behind you, the face isn’t pointing right or left of the target.

It might come down to the aesthetics on top, sometimes it helps to have a bigger line, three lines or even no line at all. Putting is so individual and everyone needs to try all those variations and find the one that works best for them.

Michael Block and Brooks Koepka shared the headlines at the PGA Championship.

Q. You provoked a little bit of a reaction online when you said on a podcast that you would be one of the best players in the world if you had Rory’s long game. Do you stand by that?

So, I hit the ball 280 (yards) after roll and my world ranking is at 577. I mean, that’s a complete guess, but where would my world ranking be if I carried it 50 more yards? It wouldn’t be worse, I’ll tell you that much. What would it be? I don’t know.

Q. So is your short game on par with the world’s best?

I always look at the stats after tournaments. At the American Express, I was second for strokes gained: short game and putting. Going into round four of the PGA Championship, I think I was second and I finished sixth. It’s definitely the best part of my game. I do keep the driver pretty much in play, but I’m just not a bomber. Half my students are longer than I am.

Q. We’ve got to bring up the nine albatrosses you’ve had. That’s got to be some kind of world record, surely?

I don’t know. The funny part is that the one I made about two months ago was my second or third time on that hole. I also have two on the same hole at El Niguel Country Club. I made one on the original hole, a par 5, with the Director of Golf.

Then, just last year in our Section Championship for Southern California, I hit a 5-wood in on the newly redesigned hole for another albatross. It’s crazy, but I literally love my 4-iron and 5-wood. I’m probably straighter with those than I am with my 7-iron. I don’t know what it is, but hopefully I can get up to 10!

Q. What’s the next chapter of the Michael Block story?

I have four events lined up that I’m already in. I’m going to Sydney to play the Australian Open. Then I’ve got the American Express on the PGA Tour, the Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines and then the PGA Championship at Valhalla. I’m also in talks with a couple of others at the beginning of the year.

I’m trying to be realistic with it. I’m probably going to have two dogs, two in the middle where I’m struggling to make the cut, and then I’m hoping for two where I’m up there competing for top 20.

Q. Is The Open Championship the next one on the bucket list? 

Oh yeah. I made sure last year that I came over to Dundonald for Final Qualifying. I was so excited about coming over because I know there’s a lot of roll normally on links courses. Yet it was the exact opposite.

My ball was going nowhere because it was cold and soaking wet. That’s the worst possible thing that could have happened. But I told my caddie right away, “Dude, we are coming back next year.”

Michael Block has been enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.

Q. Have you ever considered pursuing a full-time career on tour?

The members at the club I was originally at made me go to Q-School. They had a BBQ, raised $15,000 for me and said: “Take three months, go play, and go to Q-School.”

So I went to Q-School, got to second stage, which was good, but I didn’t make it through. I guess I’ve always wanted a life where it’s more work and play with a guaranteed pay cheque at the end of it. I didn’t want to have to make six-foot downhill putts to pay my mortgage on the mini tours.

I always thought I’d be one of those guys who would flip-flop between the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours. I didn’t want to live that struggling life and to not start my real life until I was 35. I had this whole goal of being a head pro by the time I was 30 and I made it happen. That was the best choice I ever made.

Q. Would playing on the senior circuit interest you more?

Maybe. Not full-time by any means, but could I play six or seven events? Then absolutely. I can’t wait to turn 50 and not be the short guy anymore. On the senior tour, I will be normal. There’s no doubt I will be going to that Q-School!

Q. We heard you’ve already got a practice round in at Valhalla and tied the course record with a nine-under 63. Do you fancy your chances of another top 15?

I did play the PGA in 2014 at Valhalla and I shot 74-75, something like that. But I went out there this time with the owner of the club and his son, and I didn’t even know I tied the record until the owner told me. He was like, “Jose (Maria Olazabal) did it in the 2000 PGA Championship, but he did it when it was 700 yards shorter’.

Obviously, shooting a 63 in a Major is a lot better than a 63 in a casual round, but I’ll take it. Do I think I have the opportunity to make the cut again? Absolutely. But if I shoot a 63 in a Major, I’ll retire after that one!

This interview took place days before Michael made a hole-in-one during a 100-hole charity hike at The Hay, Tiger’s new par-3 course at Pebble Beach, for underprivileged kids.

About the author

Today's Golfer features editor Michael Catling.

Michael Catling
Features Editor

Michael Catling is Today’s Golfer‘s Features Editor and an award-winning journalist who specializes in golf’s Majors and Tours, including DP World, PGA, LPGA, and LIV.

Michael joined Today’s Golfer in 2016 and has traveled the world to attend the game’s biggest events and secure exclusive interviews with dozens of Major champions, including Jack Nicklaus, Jordan Spieth, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Gary Player, and Justin Thomas.

A former member of Ufford Park and Burghley Park, Michael has been playing golf since he was 11 and currently plays off a handicap of 10.

Away from golf he’s a keen amateur chef and has his own healthy recipes website. He also loves playing squash, going to the gym, and following Chelsea FC.

Michael uses a Ping G driverPing G 3-woodPing G Crossover 3-ironPing G Series irons (4-PW), Ping Glide wedges (52º, 56º, 60º), TaylorMade MySpider Tour Putter, and Srixon AD333 golf ball.

Get in touch with Michael via email and follow him on Twitter.

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