In the 1980 movie Caddyshack, Bill Murray plays greenskeeper “Carl Spackler,” who in an iconic scene fantasizes about being the “Cinderella Boy” who holes out an 8-iron in his last swing at The Masters. He’s daydreaming, but in its own way (a few ways), it is epic.
In the 1996 movie Tin Cup, Kevin Costner plays driving range pro “Roy McAvoy” — who actually does hole out his last shot in the U.S. Open. It happens right after he’s stubbornly plunged six balls in a row into the water. For golf fans, this scene is just as epic.
These storylines are in movies because they hardly ever happen in real life. But when they do, they can transcend sports.
Yesterday, a 46-year-old head golf pro from Southern California named Michael Block got to live out the two famous fictional scenes — and his own dreams — when he dropped an ace straight into the cup at the PGA Championship. You can watch it here, but you may want to read a little further first to understand why this was arguably the greatest golf shot of all time.
To begin with, golf is a family affair in the Block family. So much so that Michael’s son Dylan caddied for him in tournaments as a boy. Dylan was 13 the first time he ever toted the bag for his Dad, and it paid off big time. On the final day, with just three holes left, Dylan actually reached his arm below ground into a burrowing animal hole at the base of a tree — blind — and miraculously pulled Michael’s golf ball out of the earth. Dad avoided the lost ball penalty, made birdie, and qualified by a single shot to play in the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis — his own hometown!
Quite a story. But nothing compared to this past week.
There are approximately 29,000 PGA golf professionals in America. Not the Tour pros who are on television every week competing for millions of dollars. I’m talking about the private club and public course pros who work long hours in the face of constant requests, suggestions and complaints from countless players (customers) every day. They also run the local tournaments. They also give lessons. They also run the pro shop, etc., etc… It’s a golf pro’s life. And they love it.
But nearly every one of those club pros at one time wanted “to dance.” To play on the PGA Tour. To compete to become the best players in the world. A mere handful actually get there. Tough game.
But a good number of those 29,000 still compete in official tournaments ever year. And the granddaddy of them all is the “PGA Professional Championship” — the one that Michael Block won with his boy in 2014. Each year, the top 20 finishers in that tournament qualify to play in the actual PGA Championship — one of the four “Majors” on Tour.
This year was the fifth time that Block made it into that elite field. His goal when he teed off on Thursday was to beat the other 19 pros who’d qualified. He did that in just two days, as he was the only one of the 20 who made the cut to play the weekend. But he had no idea that he was about to win over the entire golf world.
Oak Hill Country Club in upstate New York is a ridiculously hard golf course — even for the best in the world. Block shot an even par 70 on Saturday, the same number he’d fired on Thursday and Friday. This put him in a tie for eighth place out of a field that started with 137 Tour pros. Ho-hum.
Going into Sunday, it felt like every fan in the golf world was rooting for Block. This guy was having so much fun, and so unassumingly, that it was contagious. He actually went out drinking on Saturday night with locals at the Pittsford Pub. When he was told during a live interview that afternoon that he was paired with Rory McIlroy for the final round, he walked in a circle, laughing, and then said:
“Are you serious? Wow…That should be fun. We’re gonna have a good time… Really?”
After his first two rounds, I had made a few bets on Block to come in top 5 or top 10 for the tournament. These were still long shots with 36 holes left to play against the best in the world — but he’d hung in there on Saturday. I couldn’t wait to watch him.
The pro from Mission Viejo got off to a slow start on Sunday afternoon, with bogeys on the 1st and 7th holes. He hadn’t made a birdie through 14, which moved him back to around 20th place. Then he stepped up to the par-3 15th hole.
Fans had been cheering him on every swing at every hole. Michael Block might be worlds better than the rest of us who play golf at middling levels, but today he was us. Bogeys are our lives.
On the 15th tee, 151 yards from the pin, Block and his caddy John Jackson had decided to take a little extra club, a 6-iron, due to the wind licking their faces. But after they saw Rory’s tee shot, and the gusts died back down for a tick, they reversed course. Jackson put a 7-iron in Block’s hands.
If you go online and take a look at most holes-in-one on the PGA Tour, you’ll notice two things: 1) The balls almost always either roll into the hole or bounce once and then drop, and 2) The pros that hit these shots, who are dead serious most of the time as they’re competing for their livelihood — they go nuts! Like five-year-old kids.
Not Michael Block. With just a few holes left to play in what had already been the greatest golf week of his life, he dunked his 7-iron straight into the hole on a fly. The ball actually damaged the cup!
But Block didn’t know that it went in. A huge cheer had already erupted, but he’d been getting that kind of ear-blistering love from the gallery all day. He couldn’t see the hole from the tee. Then Rory came walking back toward him, with a broad smile and a big hug. Block still wasn’t sure:
“No way, no way. Did that go in? I saw it go straight at it but I had no idea after that. Wow.”
His home club crowd watching live back in Mission Viejo — including his two sons who were not able to travel to the tournament — were in bedlam. Block later cried watching the video.
Whether he was just shell-shocked or whether Michael Block is truly this humble, he merely smiled after Rory’s notification and kept strolling toward the green. Surely all off this could not be real.
Over his last two holes, Block hit two great chips and two clutch putts to finish +1 for the tournament. He came in tied for 15th place, which not only won him the biggest paycheck by far of his life — $288,000— it also guaranteed him a spot in the field in next year’s PGA Championship. No qualifier to play, just red carpet.
Block’s finish in the PGA Championship was the best by any PGA golf pro in the last 35 years. Afterwards, when asked what the week meant to him, he didn’t hesitate: it was all for his boys. And the hole-in-one just made it all the more indescribably unforgettable.
“To do it on that hole on this stage was a lifelong dream…I’m makin’ sure that I enjoy this moment. It’s not gonna get better than this. There’s no way. No chance in hell.”
Golfers get it, Michael. So do millions of others. Thank you for the thrill.