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PGA Championship

Has the PGA Championship become relevant once more after years of public indifference?

Summary
 

The PGA Championship has been in a fight to stay relevant for many decades now and it’s not hard to understand why. Indeed, put alongside the Masters, US Open, and The Open, it’s easy to see why the PGA Championship has long been considered the least glamorous of all four majors. Unsurprisingly, the TV ratings always lag behind the year’s other three majors and the reason is simple: until 2023, the PGA Championship had lost its identity with golf fans in the dark about what it truly symbolised. 

A week like any other on the PGA Tour

Of course, at the Masters, greatness comes in the form of a green jacket while the US Open is renowned for being golf’s most demanding test. As for The Open, it is the fabled Claret Jug that is one of the most recognisable trophies in world sport. In short, these three majors evoke a stirring feeling in sports fans but the same was never quite true of the PGA Championship. At least, if you go back to the beginning of the 2023 edition before the first tee-off on Thursday morning, it felt like an ordinary week on the PGA Tour; the narratives doing the rounds didn’t leave you lying awake at night.

Yes, there was some talk about Jon Rahm possibly going all the way after winning the Masters while there was also quiet chatter about Scottie Scheffler’s chances owing to his status as the number one-ranked golfer in the world. Overall, if you had to pick, perhaps the majority of fans saw this as a golf event tournament that the American would win which is why they headed to sites like BetUK to take advantage of Scheffler’s 9/1 odds. The reality is that doing this wasn’t anything out of the ordinary though as fans place bets on competitions every week throughout the PGA Tour season. The wider point is that there was very little fanfare in the build-up to an event that felt like everyone connected to it would be going through the motions.

That was, at least, until Michaal Block, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, a public course in California, reminded the world why this is a major that deserves to be celebrated. 

 

A timely reminder of why the PGA Championship is played 

The PGA Championship is different from the year’s other major championships as it doesn’t invite amateurs with the field limited to professionals only. Crucially, this doesn’t mean that there can’t be an underdog story as the event chooses instead to include what is, in effect, the local pro at your golf course. Granted, they still have to qualify but 20 spots are open to pros who make a living teaching the game instead of traveling the world playing it. It is the PGA Championship’s unique selling point but in years gone by, however, these pros were largely unable to make their mark or capture the public’s attention which is essentially why the PGA Championship had lost its way.

Ultimately, this major was crying out for one of the teaching pros that the game had left behind, with calluses on their hands and a mortgage to pay, to step up and bloody some of the noses of the world’s elite. 

That is exactly what Block did after he ended the week in a tie for 15th place which was the best result for a club pro at the PGA Championship since 1986 when Lonnie Nielsen recorded an 11th-place finish. Block, paired with Rory Mcllroy on the final day, would also go on to record an incredible slam dunk hole-in-one on the 15th. More records were to fall as it was the first ace by a club pro at the PGA Championship since George Bowman in 1996. Block’s rare achievement earned him a hug from Mcllroy as the crowd on the 15th celebrated wildly; undoubtedly another surreal moment in his life.

 

Three holes later when Block came to the 18th, he required a par to earn an automatic invite to next year’s PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club. After having trouble with his approach, Block’s chances looked slim. The 46-year-old showed immense courage yet again, however, to get up and down for a par and secure his entrance to the 106th playing of the PGA Championship in 2024.

 

When the club pro eventually drove away from Oak Hill Country Club on Sunday evening, he had earned a cheque of £231,496 which, to put it in better context, is the equivalent of over 2000 lessons at his current going rate that he offers in California. 

Block making the PGA Championship a big deal in the Big Apple 

Block’s heroic display in New York was so mesmerising that it has, to a certain degree, taken the limelight away from Brooks Koepka’s eventual win. Yes, this hard-working club pro has breathed life back into the PGA Championship and reminded golf fans why this is a major that should be revered. We now know once more that this is a competition that opens the door for the players who work nine to five and have had to go through the anguish of watching their peers live out their dreams. The PGA Championship is relevant once more thanks to Michael Block, a man who never gave up.

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