ROCHESTER — At every major championship, it is possible to witness a golf shot that makes you feel something deep in your soul.

Maybe it’s a 2-iron stinger from Tiger Woods or a towering drive from Rory McIlroy. It could be a buttery flop shot from Phil Mickelson, or a nuked 4-iron from Brooks Koepka. Even a putt from Jordan Spieth — like the double breaker he made on the 16th hole at St. Andrews in 2015 — might qualify. There is something about a great golf shot that looks effortless and seems ethereal, the way the ball seems guided by sorcery as much as force.

However, I don’t want to talk about those kinds of shots right now.

I want to talk about the visceral spectacle of a violent hosel shank.

Michael Block hit one on Friday in the 2nd round of the PGA Championship, a shank so unsettling that I’ll likely still be thinking about it when I climb into bed tonight. (And perhaps tomorrow.) But I’m not interested in mocking Block, a club professional from Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Southern California. Instead, I come to praise him.

There is something endearing about seeing a shank hit by a man in the midst of one of the greatest rounds of his life. It’s a reminder that golf, even at the highest level, can feel like a tightrope walk on the edge of a cliff. (While juggling snakes.) Even the best players in the world flirt with an element of golfing death. It looms in the back of your mind like a kernel of despair, and it can never truly be killed. No one who has ever dared to swing a golf club — not Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan or Bobby Jones — can say a shank hasn’t bitten them at least once. It is the one experience in the game that is truly universal, the despair you feel in your stomach when you see the ball knifing sideways, headed expeditiously toward parts unknown.

Block is a 46-year-old teaching professional who has played his way into six major championships. He has won (according to Ryan French of Monday Q Info), a staggering 43 times in California PGA Sectional events. He is, by any reasonable measure, one of the best ball strikers in the world. There is a decent chance he could, if he’d chosen a different path in life, be playing on the Korn Ferry Tour or even the PGA Tour. He is friendly with Patrick Cantlay and Beau Hossler and, for the most part, plays them straight up when they play money games. Block is good enough, at minimum, to hover on the fringes of the professional game. And if he was doing what we normally expect out of club professionals at the PGA Championship — playing mostly a ceremonial role — we likely wouldn’t have seen any evidence of his vicious hosel rocket.

But because Block had climbed into contention at a major by making four birdies on Friday, he was part of ESPN’s coverage window when he arrived at the 5th hole, a somewhat-benign Par 3 (by Oak Hill standards) that was playing around 165 yards. Up to that point, he had flushed nearly every shot he stood over. He discussed club selection with his caddie John Jackson, determined it necessitated an 8-iron, then stood over the ball feeling free and loose, without a single demon in his mind.

What happened next was, well … best to let him tell it.

“I love hitting baby draw with my 8-iron,” Block said. “I've done it well all week, and all of a sudden … we've all been there, done that. We look up, and I'm, like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ The ball was just going off, somehow hit the tree, almost killed somebody, and then comes off and goes in the deep rough”

As someone who is, by any reasonable measure, NOT good at golf, I know what it’s like to hit that kind of shank. I have hit so many, in fact, I could not count them with an abacus. My main concern is the crippling fear that the next shot (and perhaps the one after it) will also be a shank, that I’ll never make solid contact with the clubface again. I have also never done it in front of thousands (perhaps millions) of people. I was fascinated by what was going through Block’s head as he trudged to his ball. Mostly, he said, it was shock. All his swings on the driving range (and in his round to that point) felt like he was an avatar in a video game.

“It came out of nowhere,” Block said. “I thought I hit it great, then I saw it going off a tree. I actually made a pretty good double from there, to be honest. I just played [the ball] off the toe the rest of the holes and hit some pretty good shots, so that helped me forget about it.”

It feels a little cruel to watch a club professional climb into contention at the PGA Championship — Block is tied for 10th at even par, the same score as Rory McIlroy — and only write about the worst shot of his round.  So I want to call your attention to the fact that he stuffed a wedge on No. 10, stuffed another on 12, hit a great pitch on 14 to set up another birdie, and made a stress-free par on No. 6 (right after his shank!), the toughest hole at Oak Hill in Round 2.

There is something unifying, however, about a great shank. It can serve as a round-wrecking lighting bolt thrown by the golfing gods as they try to humble even the best of us. And Block knows it better than most, having walked many students through the delicate swing surgery that’s necessary to suffocate them.

(The shank, by the way, can never truly be killed, only sent into hibernation for lengthy periods.)

I was curious, what advice did he give his clients when they felt paralyzed by the shanks? Normally this type of advice costs $125 an hour, but it seemed like Block was in a generous mood and selfishly I wanted to write it down for future reference.

“What I like to do is set up to the golf ball and swing and hit the ground on the inside of the golf ball,” Block said. “Like not even hit the ball on practice swings. Just take it, hit inside the golf ball a couple of times to feel that space and to get the hands in tight. If you watch a lot of the best players in the world, their hands are extremely close to their body at the moment of impact. A lot of the worst players in the world, their hands are far away from their body at the moment of impact. That's the difference.”

Informed that Dustin Johnson also hit a quasi-shank during his round, Block couldn’t resist a little chuckle.

“Well, that actually makes me feel better,” he said.

Despite the lengthy and insightful shank discussion, the highlight of Block breaking down his day didn’t come until a reporter pointed out that he was beating Jon Rahm, the No. 1 player in the world, by five shots. Block got choked up as he wrestled with how to answer.

“Pretty cool, to say the least,” Block said. He paused, weighing his words. His lower lip quivered.

“I wish you guys could come to my office and hang out with me and come teach with me on the back of the driving range with my students who are out there right now,” Block said. “I don't know why that makes me emotional, but it does. Sorry, Jon. I don't know who I beat, who I didn't beat. I'm going to go out there and do my best and put my head down and play as well as I can for the next two days.”

Then he headed off to grab lunch and an IPA.

“I guarantee you, within the next hour, I will have a beer in my hand,” he said.


Talor Gooch wasn’t interested in sticking around Oak Hill for very long after his second round ended. He jogged straight from scoring into the locker room, scooped up his stuff and then walked briskly to the parking lot. I managed to catch up with him on the walk, curious how he felt about likely missing the U.S. Open. Gooch could have secured a spot with a strong showing at the PGA Championship, bumping him inside the Top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings, but he never felt like he had control of his golf ball and missed the cut after shooting 76-74.

“It always sucks when you don’t have your A game at a major championship,” Gooch said. “This was kind of the first week of the year where I just didn’t have the ball control. It’s not a good week to not know where the golf ball is going. I was just hitting it in the rough a lot and then I probably missed 8 or 10 putts this week inside of 8 feet this week. That’s just golf sometimes.”

I wondered how Gooch felt about missing out on the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, considering the fuss his LIV Golf teammate made last week over the USGA’s decision to tweak the language in its exemption category this year. Gooch originally believed he would be exempt into the U.S. Open based on having qualified for the PGA Tour Championship (the Top 30 in the FedExCup standings are given an exemption), but the U.S. Open changed its language to say only players who were “eligible” could qualify for the exemption. Gooch lost his eligibility when he signed with LIV Golf last summer. Mickelson called the change a “dick move” and a “direct attack on [Gooch] and his career.”

Gooch, a two-time winner on the LIV Tour this season, seemed fine with his fate.

“I knew with all the craziness in golf happening right now there might be stuff like this that would happen, so honestly it’s not surprising,” he said.

There was one last point I wanted to clarify: Why did Gooch, clearly one of the hottest players in golf prior to the PGA Championship, not enter sectional qualifying? It seemed likely he could snag a spot and perhaps contend. Was he trying to make a point with the USGA?

“A little bit of that,” he said. “But also our schedule is busy locked up right now. If I didn’t qualify via world ranking, I just felt like we have a lot of tournaments coming up. It’s time to focus on that.”


Rory McIlroy was happy to confess something late Friday after shooting a 69 to climb into a tie for 10th place.

Right now, he has no idea where the ball is going with a driver in his hands. The stats confirm it as well. He’s currently losing -.427 shots off the tee through two rounds, a number almost unheard of for him. All things considered, being even par and only five shots off the lead feels like a minor victory.

“I think with how terribly I've felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I'm only five back -- yeah, not saying it could be up there with one of my best performances, but when I holed that putt at the last, I looked at the board, and I thought, I can't believe I'm five back,” McIlroy said. “I guess that's a good thing because I know if I can get the ball in play off the tee, I'll have a shot.”

A reporter asked McIlroy if there was any safe shot in his arsenal he might be able to rely on over the weekend, something like the butter cut he’s used in the past where sacrifices distance for some control. He chuckled as he gave his answer.

“I tried to hit that little cut on 16 and almost hit it out of bounds,” he said.

It’s always hard to make definitive statements about McIlroy because there is so much volatility to his game, and he admittedly often lacks the patience to stick to a game plan when things go awry. But he has shown promising signs of patience at Oak Hill, something he tried to lean into prior to the tournament.

“I stayed really patient today,” he said. “I think my patience was rewarded with a couple of good breaks and a couple of birdies coming in.”

Will that hold up? It’s hard to say. He admitted he’s not likely to be patient off the tee over the weekend. It might be time to return to a strategy that benefited him when he was young and carefree and had little scar tissue from majors.

“I may just tee it high and bomb it everywhere,” McIlroy said.

And why not? Next year will mark a decade since he’s won a major. He’s tried a lot of strategies. Nothing has truly clicked.

What does he have to lose at this point but time?