You either die a hero or live long enough to become the villain. In Michael Block’s case, “long enough” lasted five days.
Fans have suddenly had their fill of a story they couldn’t get enough of at the PGA Championship, the 46-year-old club pro’s feel-good tale taking a different tenor at this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club. On the surface, this is due to overexposure, a persona that is a little too performative, and comments that can generously be described as self-assured. And to varying degrees, this is all true. But the internet’s Block backlash—and the backlash to the backlash, and the discourse that has followed—was inevitable and predictable, just not for the reason you think.
For those that have missed it, the Block Party that raged all weekend at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., where Block tied for 15th and produced a slam-dunk hole-in-one, is starting to wear out its welcome on the mean streets of Golf Twitter. There were undertones in the responses to media entity after media entity (guilty as charged) promoting Block’s Cinderella narrative at every turn, directed not necessarily at the man himself but the ecosystem as a whole. We milked his magic until it ran dry rather than appreciating the weekend for what it was and moving on.
Block’s willingness to partake in the hagiography of his life hasn’t helped, participating in two walk-and-talks during the PGA broadcast and conducting more than 30 interviews between Sunday at Oak Hill and meeting with the media on Tuesday at Colonial. Certainly those interactions have spurred Block’s popularity, amplifying his everyman demeanor and self-deprecating humor to millions. Conversely, there is a bit of—how should we say this?—thirstiness to the fame that has the danger of rubbing some the wrong way, because the moment you tell everyone why you matter is the moment you prove the opposite.
Provoking that agitation were Block’s comments from a recent podcast. In answering what the biggest difference between his game and Rory McIlroy’s, Block responded, “Oh my God. What I would shoot from where Rory hits it would be stupid. I think I’d be one of the best players in the world. Hands down. If I had that stupid length, all day. My iron game, wedge game, around the greens and my putting is world class.” Nevermind that’s the exact type of conviction needed to contend at a PGA Championship as a 46-year-old club pro. Block’s words were seen as cavalier and brash, sentiments that while celebrated in other sports are considered cardinal sins in golf.
And, sure, his “aw shucks” showmanship can wear quickly. It’s one thing to mug and shrug at the camera like Jim Halpert from “The Office” after a ridiculous save during a major championship weekend, recognizing this is the week of your life so why not enjoy it … quite another to ham it up on every hole after every shot in the first round of a tour event.
However, there are two incontrovertible reasons for the Block backlash. The first is that golf does not have a sustained appetite for underdogs. While other games run off upsets, this one often lives in fear of them. It pulls for its Goliaths, and whatever stage given to the little guys is meant in small doses. And to an extent, that is true with Block. The story is warm, the story is endearing … now move aside so we can watch the big men battle it out. But the only way the Block Party wouldn’t end was for it to continue what started it in the first place. Specifically, his play.
Golf loves to romanticize its meritocracy, and in Block the sport had the perfect avatar to encapsulate this ideal. His demeanor, his backstory, his willingness to help sell the story was part of the packaging, but the product at the heart of the pitch was a club pro taking down the world’s best. At Colonial on Thursday, the product went sour. He bogeyed his first hole, a par 5 that statistcally was one of the easiest holes on the course. He followed up by blading his approach some 40 yards of the next green. The man with the world-class short game ended up losing six strokes around the dance floors. The final damage was an 81, dead last among the field of 120 by four shots.
There is no shame in that score. He is a club pro, after all, and his competitors are the best in the world. If anything, it underlined how special and rare last weekend was. But, again, golf loves its meritocracy, and it doesn’t particularly enjoy the optics of partisanship or preference. Without the performance to back his story up, Block goes from a special story to special treatment. The line is thin and the standards are harsh, but that is the reality.
Block was three over for his first 12 holes on Friday, but will still miss the cut by miles. No matter. After a week off he will return with a sponsor’s exemption at the RBC Canadian Open. And maybe he’s able to rekindle the fiire of Oak Hill once more. Most likely he will not, which is fine. Block parties are not supposed to last forever. That’s what makes them memorable.