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Michael Block, who achieved cult hero status at the 2023 PGA Championship, eyes a repeat at Valhalla

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Four blissful, borderline mystical days at Oak Hill last spring opened up the world for Michael Block.

It also forced the PGA club pro-turned-cult hero to close his office door at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, the Southern California course where he’s long served as the head professional.

It’s a tradeoff Block has learned to live with over the last 12 dizzying months.

The 47-year-old understands the shelf life for the instant celebrity status he gained by tying for 15th at the 2023 PGA Championship — a weekend that included a slam-dunk hole-in-one and an epic up-and-down for par on the 18th hole in front of Rory McIlroy and the rest of the golf world during the final round — doesn’t last particularly long.

That’s why golf’s “everyman” has made it a point to be seemingly everywhere over the last year. In Qatar hanging with Formula 1 star Max Verstappen. Teeing it up in Canada and Australia. Hamming it up in commercials. Hopping on podcasts. Celebrating with entertainer DJ Khaled. Sharing a tee box with Tiger Woods and Max Homa.

It’s been a bit much. Just not too much. Not yet anyway.

“I wouldn’t trade any part of it for the world,” Block said. “I’ve loved every moment of it. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been able to go, the tournaments I’ve been able to play in.”

A year ago, Block arrived in upstate New York as one of 20 club pros who qualified their way into playing against the best in the world. By Friday afternoon, he found himself in contention as the gallery chanted “ One of us!” By Sunday evening, he was putting the finishing touches on the kind of storybook ending that rarely spawns a sequel.

He arrived at Valhalla for this year’s PGA Championship hoping to write one anyway.

Block qualified for the same event on the same course a decade ago, missed the cut by eight shots and headed back home to his wife, Val and their two sons, happy with the life he’d chosen. There are far worse ways to provide for your family than teaching the game you love and carving out a reputation as one of the better players in the Southern California PGA.

Things were like that for a long time. Then came last May and 72 holes that etched him into PGA Championship lore.

Looking back, he’s still a little surprised that it even happened at all, particularly after the rain arrived on Saturday, making Oak Hill even brawnier than usual for a player who never has counted length among his strengths.

“I couldn’t believe that the 47-year-old club pro’s swing and putting stroke somehow held up during that time,” he said.

It did, but the immediate aftermath took its toll. Block received an exemption into the Charles Schwab Challenge the following week but finished dead last in the field. He was a little better at the Canadian Open but still didn’t reach the weekend. He did make the cut at the Australian Open in December, tying for 27th and earning a little more than $11,000, a paycheck that essentially covered the cost of the trip.

Yet playing has taken a back seat to all the trappings that came with his unlikely run. He is perpetually busy, with offers still streaming in from all over. That has led to some difficult short-term decisions.

“My door has to stay shut in my office, which is a bummer,” he said. “Usually it’s open and I can say ‘hi’ to the assistants and everyone that’s walking through, but it’s been such an onslaught of people and things like that, I can’t keep my door open.”

That steady stream, however, will eventually slow to a trickle. Block knows this. He doesn’t apologize for the choices he’s made over the last year, because why would he?

“It’s like if somebody walked up to your house and they — obviously those people winning $10 million when someone walks up to their house and knocks and the door and they open it,” he said. “That’s exactly how it felt for me minus the $10 million, but just the whole, what just happened right now.”

Block opened the door and let the world in while serving as an avatar for the weekend duffer, or at least as close to a weekend duffer as a two-time PGA Professional of the Year can get.

A repeat performance at brawny Valhalla is a daunting task. He’s trying not to think about it too much. It’s a mindset that worked wonders at Oak Hill, back when he was just a longtime club pro and not the guy now known universally in some golf circles as “Blockie,” a guy with a profile now so big that his bearded face adorns one of the massive banners reserved for notable players that have sprouted up across the property.

“You play as good as you can and try not to get frustrated when you hit a bad shot because there is going to be a bad shot, and just have a good time,” he said. “That’s how I play at my best.”

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AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

By WILL GRAVES
AP National Writer

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