Michael Block record-breaking ninth SCPGA Player of the Year title

By Randy Youngman   

      What do you do for an encore after shooting a career-low 58?

      If you’re Michael Block, the head professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, you go to Europe to lead the U.S. to a convincing victory in the PGA Cup, then fly home and win the Southern California PGA Professional Championship to clinch your record-breaking ninth SCPGA Player of the Year title.

      If you’re scoring at home, that’s 11,000 air miles, two continents, eight rounds, five victories, two impressive comebacks, two records and one adrenaline-pumping double-eagle for Block in the span of six days.

     “It was awesome!” an exhausted Block said after his whirlwind week of pressure-packed golf came to an end with a five-shot victory in the Section Championship at El Niguel Country Club in Laguna Niguel.

     Block’s margin of victory in the Section Championship—the third such title of his career—was actually misleading, because his lead was down to two shots midway through the back nine of the third and final round. It also disguised the fact that he had shot a 4-over-par 76 in the first round while battling jet lag after his overnight flight from London the day before, leaving him seven shots out of the lead.

     “I felt like I was in outer space that day,” Block recalled. “I don’t know if it was jet lag, but I was hitting it only 250 (yards) off the tee.”

     That was understandable, because the day before in suburban London, Block had to rush to the airport after his improbable comeback to win his singles match in the PGA Cup—he was 4-down with six to play in the opening match, but he made birdies on five of the last six holes to win 1-up, including a 25-footer on No. 15, a 30-footer on No. 17 and a 3-wood from 260 yards on the par-5 18th to set up the clinching two-putt birdie.

      “Somehow, I got it done,” Block said. “One of my goals was to play for the U.S. team in Europe, and it was such a great experience. Our team was amazing.”

     His only regret was needing to leave before the trophy presentation and Closing Ceremonies.

     “I only had one hour to get to Heathrow (Airport) for an 11½-hour flight to LAX,” Block said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t stick around to celebrate with my teammates.”

    That’s because the SCPGA Professional Championship began the next day at El Niguel, and Block had to be there to keep alive his bid for another SCPGA Player of the Year title.

    Block was 4-1-0 in his five matches at Foxhills Resort & Club in Surrey, England to help propel the 10-man U.S. team captained by Suzy Whaley, the Honorary President of the PGA, to a 15 ½-10 ½ victory over the Great Britain & Ireland team of club professionals. It was the first U.S. victory on foreign soil in the Ryder Cup-style event since 2009.

    But it took a phone call from Whaley to Jim Richerson, the president of PGA of America Board of Directors and general manager at Riviera Country Club, for Block to get the chance to even play in his Section Championship. Because there’s a rule requiring any player on U.S. PGA Cup team to attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies to be eligible to compete, that rule had to be waived for Block.

    “I had to get board approval from the PGA of America in order to miss the Closing Ceremonies,” Block said, “but the vote was unanimous.”

    Though Block had a commanding lead in the SCPGA’s season-long points standings, it wasn’t as easy as showing up at El Niguel for him to clinch another title.

     If Block missed the cut and Mark Geddes of Coronado Golf Course, second in the points standings, had finished in the top four in the Sectional Championship, Geddes would have claimed Player of the Year honors instead of Block.

     And Geddes did get his fourth-place finish. But Block took care of business the hard way, rebounding from his sleepwalking, opening-round 76 to shoot a 4-under 68 in the second round and a 2-under 70 in the final round to finish at 2-under 214—and as the only player to finish in red figures among the 140 club pros who entered.

     The spark to Block’s second-round surge was a hole-out from 230 yards on the par-5 2nd hole at El Niguel—for a rare double-eagle 2.

      “Hit a 5-wood,” said Block, who actually had an albatross on the same hole several years earlier. “It bounced onto the green, but when we got up there, we couldn’t find it. Looked in the bunker. Looked in the rough. Finally, I looked in the cup. There it was.”

     Suddenly, Block was back in contention. And by the end of the day, his 36-hole even-par total put him in the lead after the first-round leaders all backed up in the afternoon winds.

     “Conditions were tough,” Block said. “The wind was swirling, the greens were flying, the Kikuyu (rough) was 4-5 inches.”

     Block began the final round with a one-shot lead, built it to four, had it cut to two by Steve Holmes of Westlake Golf Course on the back nine. But Holmes stumbled over the final few holes while Block was making several nice par saves, increasing his winning margin to five shots.

     As the ROLEX SCPGA Player of the Year—for the fifth consecutive year, a record, and ninth time overall, another record—Block broke a tie with Chris Starkjohann for the most POY titles in the history of the SCPGA. He clearly has established himself as one of the top club professionals to ever tee it up in Southern California.

     By winning the POY title, he also earns an exemption into the PGA Tour’s The American Express (formerly the Bob Hope) in La Quinta in 2023, and by winning the Section Championship, he earns an exemption into the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. They will be his 23rd and 24th career PGA Tour events, including four PGA Championships and two U.S. Opens.

    Because he also finished tied for second in the national PGA Professional Championship earlier in the year at Barton Creek in Austin, Block’s finishing kick also has thrust himself into the national PGA Professional Player of the Year race.

     In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a surprise that he also shot a 14-under 58 in a member-guest event at Coto de Caza Golf & Racquet Club two weeks before the PGA Cup.

     After all, this has been The Year of Michael Block.

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