About the time Michael Block turned 30 in the summer of 2006, he was a bit miffed as he looked at his golf career. He had won the 2001 California State Open, and that was about it.
“I knew how good I was and I hadn’t done anything,” Block said. He chose to evaluate a part of his game that not all pros are willing to scrutinize – his attitude.
He decided an attitude adjustment would include having the words “Why not” inscribed on his golf balls, and that is the mentality he has taken to the golf course ever since.
He had that outlook entering his first PGA Professional National Championship this week, entering Wednesday’s final round at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club three shots out of the lead, and entering a playoff after not having a lead at any point in 72 holes.
A missed 5-foot par putt on the 72nd hole by 36- and 54-hole leader Jamie Broce of Ohio allowed Block to get into a playoff with a 2-under 286, and he birdied the second playoff hole – the par-4 10th – with a wedge to 3 feet to claim the 47th national championship for PGA of America professionals.
Why not Block? “That’s the mentality I have every shot,” said Block, head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif. “I didn’t always have that. I used to think about what could go wrong not what could go right. And since I’ve had that mentality good things have been happening.”
With the win, Block earned $75,000 of the $550,000 purse, a berth in the $10 million PGA Championship from Aug. 7-10 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., exemptions into six 2015 PGA Tour events and a spot on the U.S. Team in the PGA Cup, the Ryder Cup for PGA of America pros and their counterparts in Europe. “Without a doubt a life-altering moment,” Block said. “It’s amazing what the PGA offers us.”
Block and Broce, the men’s golf coach at the University of Toledo, are among 20 players who qualified for the PGA Championship from the event.
The change in Block’s mentality essentially coincided with the birth of his oldest son, Dylan, 9, and was strengthened with the birth of his second son, Ethan, 7. “My children changed my golfing life because I wanted to instill the right way to play and the right way to think and how to be strong mentally in the game of golf,” Block said. “I’m still pretty fiery but I used to be really fiery and I used to let it affect my next shot too much. I might get a little upset but it’s going to last 20 seconds and I absolutely forget about it.”
He had plenty of reasons to be fired up Wednesday.
Broce had a three-stroke lead over Block at 5-under 211 entering the final round and bogeyed two of his first three holes but recovered with birdies on the fourth and sixth holes. Broce’s lead peaked at four strokes with a Block bogey on the eighth.
But Broce bogeyed the ninth and 11th holes to have his lead drop to two, both players birdied the par-3 12th and they alternated bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes. Block birdied the par-5 16th with a bunker shot to 5 feet and Broce missed an 8-foot birdie putt to drop his lead to one stroke, and he bogeyed the 18th.
“The last few days I didn’t hit my irons very good and [Tuesday] my short game really saved me, and today I just made a few more bogeys and it didn’t quite save me as many times,” said Broce, whose final-round 75 was his only over-par round of the tournament.
Both players were in the front-left green-side bunker in two shots on the 448-yard par-4 18th. Broce splashed out first and left himself about 5 feet past the hole, while Block trickled his shot a couple inches above the hole and left himself just 2 feet. Broce’s putt for the win broke about 3 inches to the left and caught the lower part of the cup and lipped out.
“It was a wicked 4- or 5-footer right there,” said Broce, who earned $48,000 for second. “I hit a good putt. Every time this week it hit the hole it usually goes in on this Bermuda, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Block thought the tournament was over as the ball approached the hole. “I feel bad for Jamie because he had it,” Block said. “That putt he had for par on the last regulation hole was perfect. . . . It was halfway down the hole.”
In the playoff, both players made par on the first playoff hole – the 18th. After Block hit a 56-degree wedge from 120 yards close on the second playoff hole – the 376-yard par-4 10th – Broce missed a 20-foot birdie putt.
“Thank goodness that putt went in the hole,” Block said. “I was not nervous in the playoff. I was actually very calm. It was win or win. I was in the PGA Championship and had a nice check and everything was hunky-dory at that point.”
Block was a teaching pro and PGA apprentice for about 14 years at two clubs in California before earning Class A status in 2012 to become eligible for the PPNC. He has won a number of events in the Southern California section in the past two years, and became the ninth player to win the PPNC in a tournament debut.
“I had no pressure because nobody knew me,” he said. “I was not in any ads or pictures leading up to this. I came in a little bit under the radar.”
Block has made the cut in the two PGA Tour events he has qualified for in the past two years, though he has failed to reach the final round because of poor third rounds, including an 86 while playing with Bubba Watson this past February in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
The PGA will be Block’s second major. He played in the U.S. Open in 2007, when he also reached the second stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. That was his last Q-School attempt.
“A lot of pressure came off of me when I realized what I love to do is be a golf professional,” he said. “I’m not good enough to be out there flying around in jets and be top 100. I know that. . . . I want to be at home with my kids and have the best job in the world.”
Block won despite making just one putt longer than 10 feet all week, by his count. He appreciated the quality and test provided by The Dunes Club but struggled with the grainy Bermudagrass on and around the greens. He chunked a chip shot just a couple feet on the par-5 eighth hole to turn a birdie chance into a nearly-costly bogey.
“Where I’m from we don’t have this Bermuda. I didn’t know how to play it,” Block said. “I won, and I’m still clueless. I made nothing. . . . I was lucky to stick it within 3 or 4 feet [in the playoff] because I don’t think I could have made anything longer than that.”
The playoff between Block and Broce was followed by a playoff between six players who all tied at 5-over 293 for the final five spots available for the PGA Championship.
Curtis Malm, 36, head pro at White Eagle Golf Club in Naperville, Ill., was the odd man out after falling to former PGA Tour member Jim McGovern on the fifth playoff hole. McGovern is now the head pro at White Beeches Golf & Country Club in Haworth, N.J.
Dave McNabb, 48, the head pro at Applebrook Golf Club in Malvern, Pa., managed to avoid the playoff by a shot by holing an uphill 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that broke about 18 inches to his left.
McNabb, playing in the final threesome, had fallen from 1-under to 5-over par following a double bogey on the 13th hole. He played the final five holes 1 under and gave a Payne Stewart-like punch and high-fived his caddie after the putt dropped.
“Obviously qualifying for the PGA is a huge accomplishment,” said McNabb, who had missed the cut in four consecutive PPNCs before qualifying for the PGA Championship last year. “Two years in a row is going to be a lot of fun for me so I’m looking forward to that.”
The 20 players who qualified for the PGA Championship:
• Michael Block, Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, Mission Viejo, Calif.
• Jamie Broce, University of Toledo (Ohio)
• Rob Corcoran, Poxabogue Golf Center in Bridgehampton, N.Y.
• Stuart Deane, Golf Center of Arlington, Texas
• Frank Esposito Jr., Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, N.J.
• Ryan Helminen, Ridgeway Country Club in Neenan, Wis.
• David Hronek, Countryside Country Club in Clearwater, Fla.
• Johan Kok, Temple Hills Country Club in Brentwood (South Carolina alum)
• Aaron Krueger, Wakonda Club in Des Moines, Iowa
• Jim McGovern, White Beeches Golf & Country Club in Haworth, N.J.
• David McNabb, Applebrook Golf Club Malvern, Pa.
• Brian Norman, The Lakes at Castle Hills in Lewisville, Texas
• Rod Perry, Crane Lakes Golf & Country Club in Port Orange, Fla.
• Matt Pesta, Lincoln Hills Golf Course in Birmingham, Mich.
• Steve Schneiter, Schneiter’s Pebble Brook in Sandy, Utah
• Jerry Smith, Backtee Sports Inc. in Garden Grove, Calif.
• Bob Sowards, New Albany (Ohio) Country Club
• David Tentis, Troy Burne Golf Club in Hudson, Wis.
• Dustin Volk, Valley View Golf Course in Layton, Utah
• Eric Williamson, Shoal Creek (Ala.) Country Club