Swanson: Michael Block has everyone cheering him, including Michael Jordan

Michael Block’s bucket list is getting shorter all the time. It’s almost a tap-in at this point.

About all that’s left? A round at Augusta National. And a round with Michael Jordan.

That last one is probably closer today than it was a week ago.

His Airness texted Block, the head golf professional at Mission Viejo’s Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, to congratulate him after he became the story at the PGA Championship last weekend.

The 46-year-old instructor flirted with the lead throughout the tournament, got paired with former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the final round on Sunday and finished at 1-over-par 281 to finish in a tie for 15th.

Block conducted himself with such enthusiasm and fearlessness over four rounds at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, that he won over the gallery and everyone watching at home.

That included Jordan (famously a golf aficionado), who sent a text to Block (a huge Jordan fan) after his final round, which included a nothing-but-cup hole-in-one on the par-3 15th, and then a tough up-and-down on 18 that earned him a place in the major next year too – and a lifetime-best payday of almost $290,000.

And that message from MJ: “Basically,” Block said, “that this is why he loves the game of golf.”

It’s why we love sports.

Underdogs. Big moments. Passion. Block gave us everything, including uniting us all behind a common rooting interest last weekend – and again this week, because organizers had to invite him to play at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rarified air, indeed.

“You know what blew my mind?” asked Jason Kane, a pupil and a friend of Block’s for more than 13 years. “As nasty and toxic as the internet is, this was an instance when I could not find one negative thing said about him. And it made me happy that people were able to see the essence of who he is, that people could feel that genuineness. I’m glad the world rallied around Mike Block this weekend. He deserves it.”

Everyone was pulling for the everyman living his dream – well, if every man had game like Block, which hardly any do.

The man shot a course-record 58 at the challenging Coto de Caza north course last year. He’s been the Southern California PGA Player of the Year eight times and won the California State Open. He’d played in the PGA Championship three times before, and twice in the U.S. Open – with a chance soon to try to qualify for a third.

Did you see Michael Block – Arroyo Trabuco’s head golf pro and golf’s man of the moment – tie for 15th at PGA Championship last weekend? No surprise to folks who know him.

He recently shot a 58 (!) at Coto De Caza North course.

Shoutout Steve Ludwig for sharing that card. pic.twitter.com/CztUkJnGVL

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 24, 2023

“He’s always been a great golfer, just now everyone gets to see it,” said Brian Schippel, the director of instruction at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, who still remembers his first impression of Block on the course 19 years ago. “I turned to him and said, ‘Man, why are you not playing professionally?’”

But Block – who has made five cuts in 25 PGA Tour events – opted instead for a more stable life as a member of the Professional Golf Association, happy to juggle duties at the club with parenting and working on his own game, doing it all with impressive finesse, said Madison Butler, a PGA teaching professional at ATGC.

“I’m like the new John Daly,” Block quipped in his news conference following his final round. “But I don’t have a mullet, and I’m not quite as big as him yet.

“I’m just a club professional, right? I work. I have fun. I have a couple boys that I love to play golf with. I have a great wife. I have great friends. I live the normal life. I love being at home. I love sitting in my backyard. My best friend in the world is my dog.”

His boys, Dylan and Ethan, are stars on the Tesoro High golf team, up-and-coming talents who play regularly with their dad. He said practicing with them had as much to do with his continued ascension as the rounds he plays occasionally with top touring pros Patrick Cantlay and Beau Hossler, both with Orange County roots.

“Every day they’re like, ‘C’mon, Dad, let’s go play!’ Block said by phone Tuesday from Texas, where he’d just played an encouraging practice round at Colonial. “And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to go home.’ But then, you know what, how long are you going to have your kids around saying, ‘Let’s go play golf’? So I never, ever say no.”

No, but what he does say – all the time – is “why not?”

“He’s been saying that forever – forever!” said Kane, who remembers that when he complained about a hole he hated in one of his first rounds with Block, the instructor asked why he was so focused on the negative. “He was like, ‘Focus on, ‘I am playing golf! Why can’t I pipe one down the middle!? Why can’t I birdie this hole!?’ He’s eternally positive.”

That energy reverberated this weekend at Arroyo Trabuco’s on-site restaurant, O’Neill’s Bar & Grill, where the big crowd that gathered to watch Block on ESPN resembled a raucous World Cup viewing party, said Bob Lasken, a veteran instructor who works at the club.

“It’s infectious,” Lasken said. “And great for golf.”

We asked. They answered.

From boots on the ground at @ArroyoTrabuco

BLOCKY. BLOCKY. BLOCKY. https://t.co/H2lDWnNHaF pic.twitter.com/iOb37E0MUE

— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 21, 2023

Nine cities in nine days but I am so happy to be back at Colonial after 20 years since I played with the men on the @PGATOUR.

And it was so great to meet Michael Block. What an incredible week he had at the @PGAChampionship. Very impressive and so fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/6iEpe8qvms

— Annika Sorenstam (@ANNIKA59) May 23, 2023

Block’s why-not spirit was displayed during in-round interviews on ESPN, and since then, in appearances on CNN and “Good Morning America.” It’s made him a favorite not only among fans but with the big-name touring pros he’s competing against. On Tuesday, it brought over Annika Sorenstam to say hello, and even produced an offer of $50,000 to buy the 7-iron he used to strike his hole-in-one.

And yes, said Block, thrilled: It’s resulted in “adding Michael Jordan to my contacts.”

Michael Block, the club professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, plays an approach shot on the 18th hole as a gallery of fans look on during the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

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