If you know the difference between a PGA Professional and a PGA Tour pro, raise your hand. I'll spare you the long history lesson, which navigates a windy road where they were once one and the same before the PGA TOUR split from the PGA of America in 1968. If you want to dig into it on your own, it's actually an interesting story that stems from tournament players wishing to compete for larger purses. 🤔 sounds eerily familiar?
In short, PGA Professionals are the men and women who run golf shops, give lessons, manage courses and serve as general stewards of the game. At TaylorMade, we call them Crusaders because they're on the front line of the game day after day.
On the other hand, TOUR pros play and compete every week for straight cash. However, what if I told you that during PGA Championship week, there's no difference at all.
This is the one time a year where club pros get to tee it up alongside the best players in the world and compete for a major title. On paper, it's David vs. Goliath, but these PGA Pros live, breathe and sleep golf. And for the next week, it won't be about how well they operate a golf course but how well they play it.
At the 105th PGA Championship played at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, four TaylorMade Crusaders are going toe-to-toe with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Tommy Fleetwood. You know a lot about those guys but very little about our four club pros. So, let's get to know them.
Michael Block has been a legend among PGA Pros for a long time. After his performance at the 105th PGA Championship, his legendary status now spans the world of golf.
The head pro from Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, was a breath of fresh air the entire week at Oak Hill. His “every man” personality and palpable swagger (did you see the RAW hat?) captivated viewers, commentators and spectators alike. Beyond that, he displayed something we at TaylorMade have always known, Michael Block golfs his ball.
With rounds of 70-70-70-71 (+1), he finished the week T15 and recorded the best finish by a club pro in the PGA Championship in more than 30 years. His historic performance also earned him Low Club Professional honors, which Block may have prophesied earlier in the week.
“The last thing I’d like to accomplish is winning low club pro here at the PGA Championship,” Block said before competition began on Thursday. “I’ve played in a lot of these, this is the fifth one, and that is last thing I need to check off in my life.”
The reigning 2022 PGA Player of the Year has long been considered one of the most accomplished players in the PGA of America. His list of accolades include nine-time Southern California PGA Player of the Year, three-time Southern California PGA Champion and 2014 PGA Professional Champion. He’s also a member of the exclusive 59 club, having turned in that round to set the course record at Arroyo Trabuco.
“I’m way more comfortable at this stage,” says Block. “Half the players (on TOUR) call me ‘Blockie’ now, and I feel like I know a lot of the guys out there, which makes it easier to be myself and just play ‘Blockie golf.’”
Having made 24 PGA TOUR starts, he knows that “Blockie golf” is good enough to compete at this level. He showed that this week at Oak Hill. No moment better personified the week than his electric hole-in-one at the 151-yard par 3 in the final round. Paired with Rory McIlroy, Block flushed a Tour Preferred MC 7-iron that only had eyes for the cup. Dunked it. It was the perfect exclamation point on a magical run week that he won’t soon forget – neither will all of golf.
With his T15 finish, Block has secured his spot in the field for the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla and cashed the largest check of his professional career ($309,000).
“I don’t go in pretending I’m a TOUR player anymore,” he continues, although he could have fooled us all. “I’m a 46-year-old club pro cruising there feeling lucky to play another major, but knowing I have the game to hold up when the spotlight is on.”
He certainly does.
The game also runs in the family, as both of his sons, Dylan and Ethan, are competing for Tesoro High School at this month’s California state championship. In addition, Block will be teeing it up with Dylan in the final stage of U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying at Hillcrest Country Club at the end of May.
“He’s got all the speed to compete on these big ballparks, and it would be a dream to be in the field together at the U.S. Open,” Block says.
Maybe there’s one more thing to check off the list.
THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT MICHAEL BLOCK
- Low Club Professional at the 2023 PGA Championship
- T15 is the best finish by a PGA Professional in the PGA Championship since 1988
- He was the only club professional to make the cut at Oak Hill
- Automatically Qualifies for 2024 PGA Championship
- He aced the 151-Yard 15th with a Tour Preferred MC 7-iron, it was his first. tournament hole-in-one
- Made the largest leap in Official World Golf Ranking history, jumping more than 3,000 spots
- 25 career PGA TOUR starts
- Head Professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California
“The 5-wood that comes down like a sand wedge. If you ever see me 230 to 240 out in the fairway, and I’ve got a smile on my face, you know why.”Michael Block
The Seminole Pro-Member is the stuff legends are made of. The field annually includes PGA TOUR greats like Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, the reigning World No. 1 and virtually every heavy hitter you can think of. Oh, then there's some guy named Tom Brady.
Matt Cahill is the Head Professional at the exclusive Juno, Florida club, and this week he's competing in his first PGA Championship.
"Every February, we have some of the best players in the world come to play Seminole, which is pretty cool to be a part of. I think having those relationships and seeing all those pros - hopefully when I get to Oak Hill, it won't be such a shock factor," says Cahill. "The hope is I can settle in and just focus on my own game."
Another potential advantage: Both Seminole and Oak Hill are classic Donald Ross designs that require similar strategies. For starters, you always want to keep it below the hole and if you must miss, miss short of the green. More often than not, going long leaves a challenging up-and-down with a high chance of bogey.
Cahill is a meticulous player and never one to rest on his laurels. That's why he scheduled a lunch before the Championship to pick the brain of longtime Oak Hill head pro Craig Harmon.
"The PGA community is always willing to share and uplift one of their own. That's one of the reasons I'm excited to compete in the PGA Championship as a member of the association. It's truly special – my feet haven't touched the ground since I qualified," he says.
After making the field, Cahill's first call was to legendary PGA Pro Bob Ford. The retired head professional at both Seminole and Oakmont mentored Cahill and helped mold him into one of the most respected golf pros in the business,
"The first thing he said to me was it's about time," Cahill laughs. "The second thing he said was: 'I'm really proud of you.' It's special to have him supporting me. Every shot I hit is downwind because I got him at my back."
Ford isn't the only one to have Cahill's back. His staff at home in the shop, which includes TaylorMade club pro Dakun Chang, himself a strong player, will be holding down the fort so Cahill can focus on his major moment.
“My Stealth 2 DHY 2-iron and it's turned really strong, so it's my 3-wood. I hit that thing so many times in New Mexico (at the PGA Professional Championship), and I know I can count on it to be my fairway finder.”Matt Cahill
Ben Kern’s first PGA Championship appearance came five years ago at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. He carries fond memories from that week, such as being the only club pro to make the cut and finishing T42 with scores of 71-69-67-70—277. And, of course, there was the near ace in the third round.
“It was on the third hole, and I remember hitting this little wedge right at it; then it took one hop and disappeared,” Kern recalls. “The crowd went crazy, and I thought for sure it’d gone in because we couldn’t see the bottom of the flag from where we were. It took about 30 seconds to realize it was sitting a foot from the hole. A lot of emotions right there.”
Kern, the 2018 Texas State Open champion, keeps his game sharp by playing once a week and hitting balls when and where he can. That’s a vast departure from the eight-hour practice days TOUR pros live by. But your staff and membership come first when you’re the general manager at a busy private course like Hickory Hills Golf Club.
“It’s tough,” he says. “But it’s like anything else you care about; you make time.”
This will be Kern’s first trip to New York, and admittedly, he doesn’t know much about the venue. But the same could be said about his successful championship appearance at Bellerive. He’s got the ideal mindset: “I’m leaving expectations at the door and just having fun.”
Also making the trip to New York will be his “bullpen” of four putters, which includes a newly constructed Spider GT Max.
“My drivers and irons have always been my strong suit. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to hit fairways and greens; I pride myself on those parts of my game.”Ben Kern
PGA Professional Kenny Pigman has the best logo in golf you’ve never seen. Treat yourself to this visual display of creativity and wordplay.
“It’s a pig with my initials in it – pretty spot on. I have a lot of junior golfers I coach that have fun with it and want to rock it. Obviously with my name, it’s a bit of a layup,” says Pigman.
The assistant pro at Arrowhead Country Club in San Bernardino, California, qualified for this year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club by finishing T4 in the PPC at Twin Warriors. This will be his second time participating in the championship after earning a start in the 2017 PGA Championship. Pigman made his PGA TOUR debut at the 2017 CareerBuilder Challenge, where he finished tied for 58th after shooting a 71-70-70-71 – 282.
“Making it to the PGA means a lot because you're top 20 of 28,000 PGA Professionals. I learned a lot from my first trip and, to be honest with you, the plan is not to overdo it,” he describes. “I try to keep my normal practice cadence while keeping expectations low and my goals to being successful one shot at a time.”
Pigman, 34, turned pro in 2012 after playing college golf at Cal State University-San Bernardino, where he earned First Team All-America honors and was the 2011 CCAA Player of the Year.
His impressive record in the Southern California PGA Section events includes eight wins in 2016 alone. He also won the 2016 Southern California PGA Section Professional Championship and has won multiple assistant championships, including the 2018 National Assistant PGA Professional Championship. He has also been named the Southern California PGA Player of the Year three times (2017, 2016 and 2015).
“TaylorMade has had my back now for eight years and it always helps when you have that level of support on a week like this,” adds Pigman. “Knowing the performance of the product gives me that much for confidence.”
“The baby draw is my go-to shot shape, but I don’t really have a favorite club. I just play the course as it’s in front of me.”
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