By scheduling Michael Block in the opening group Thursday at Bellerive, the PGA gave the 42-year-old club professional a memorable moment in his home city. Block, who went to high school at Parkway Central and went on to play golf at the University of Missouri St. Louis, hit the opening shot of the tournament: a 292-yard drive in the right of the fairway.
“The first shot felt amazing,” he said. “I mean, I feel like such a little peon in the PGA of America world or just the golf world in reality. For them to give me the honor of hitting the first shot in a major championship in my hometown is unbelievable.”
Block finished Thursday at 5-over-par 75 — well off the lead — but seemed in good spirits after the round. He said he remembers visiting Bellerive for the 1992 PGA Championship as a 15-year-old, getting autographs from major winners Payne Stewart and Nick Price.
Now Block is on the other side of the spectator fence, and he is playing alongside the best golfers in the world.
The head professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., Block grew up a mile from Bellerive and played the course a few times as a kid. During his return Thursday, he saw multiple high school friends in the stands cheering him on.
“He’s a heck of a nice guy,” said Ryan Fox, a golfer from New Zealand who was in Block’s group. “I’m sure he would have liked to score a little better, but he hit some good shots out there and (had) some great hometown support for him. … It was a cool experience playing with a hometown boy.”
Block is not a member of the PGA Tour. He qualified as a club professional, placing in the top 20 at the PGA Professional Championship in June. He found out he was in the opening group while practicing at Bellerive this week.
“It hasn’t even sunk in yet, what just occurred,” he said. “(I’m) still in the clouds for the moment. This is something I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”
Schniederjans in contention
Ollie Schniederjans arguably owns one of the best names in the PGA Championship field. He also had one of the best rounds Thursday, shooting a 3-under-par 67 that put him just three strokes behind leader Gary Woodland.
“We’ve got 54 holes left, so (it’s) good to get off to a good start and be in the mix early, but you’ve got to play four good rounds in a major to have a chance at the end,” he said.
Schniederjans turned 25 this summer and is playing at his first PGA Championship. His best previous finish at a major came at the 2015 U.S. Open, where he tied for 12th.
Johnson pleased with 3 under
Dustin Johnson, the world’s top-ranked golfer, reached 5 under par after 13 holes, but he bogeyed 14 and 17 to fall into a tie for fifth place at 3 under.
“I’m right there,” Johnson said. “Still got a lot of golf to go. I’ll try to come out tomorrow morning and get after it.”
Johnson said he missed a few putts and did not drive as well as he would have liked, but he was pleased with his round. Johnson started around noon and played in the heat of the day. He will tee off in the morning Friday.
When asked if he has a preference as to start time, Johnson said he does not — during the first two rounds.
“Hopefully it’s in the afternoon on the weekend,” he said with a smile.
Fleetwood hanging around
Tommy Fleetwood made plenty of fans at Bellerive this week, signing autographs throughout practice rounds.
He’s also been playing quality golf. He sits at 11th in the world rankings and has finished in the top 15 in each of his past five tournaments.
The 27-year-old from Scotland finished Thursday at 1 under par.
“Anytime you’re in a major and you beat the par of the golf course, you have to keep of perspective and say, ‘I’ve done some pretty good golf there,’” he said.
Fleetwood said he would have been thrilled to finish 3 under on the round, but he is happy to be in contention after the first day.
“I’ve got a nice start,” he said. “I’ve got three rounds, hopefully, now to build on that.”
A sporty family
Ryan Fox of New Zealand, who finished Thursday at two-under-par, comes from a family of notable athletes. His father, Grant, was a goalkicker for the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. Grant helped his country to the 1987 Rugby World Cup title.
“Goalkicking is very similar to golf,” Ryan Fox said. “It’s very static. It’s all about targets and process and all of that. I wouldn’t say I got it drilled in me, but I learned a lot through osmosis and how he did things. It certainly helped me a lot along the way.”
Fox’s maternal grandfather, Merv Wallace, played cricket for New Zealand.