GETTING THE MONKEY OFF HIS BACK.
Golf Monthly|October 2021
Richard Bland has always been one of the good guys on tour, but now he’s also a winner. He tells us about his emotional victory at The Belfry

It takes something special for a player to get the nod to hit the opening tee shot in The Open. In recent years we’ve had Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara, Sandy Lyle, and Darren Clarke, players who either have lifelong connections with the links hosting The Open that year or are Major winners signing off at the Championship. This year Richard Bland was handed the honor of getting The Open underway at Royal St George’s, a 48-year-old with just two previous Open appearances who has always had the word ‘journeyman’ next to his name. But these days Bland is also a winner, having finally got over the line on his 478th European Tour start in one of the most memorable victories in recent years.

Over the course of the four days at The Belfry, on a course measuring 7,300 yards in the middle of May, Bland dropped just one shot. Coming from eight groups and three shots back, he moved through the gears and the field with a seamless round of 66. The Sky Sports commentary box, the majority of whom had spent much of their careers alongside Bland, were all behind him and anyone with a passing interest in the game was cheering him on. Here, in among the 20-somethings and bright young things who can bomb it 300 yards in their sleep, we had a player who had turned pro before some of them were even born.

Once upon a time Bland had been a European Tour rookie and, in that 2002 season, he had lost a play-off to Soren Hansen at Fota Island. In the interim there had been near misses, a stand-out season of seemingly never-ending top-tens in 2016, a couple of seasons spent back on the Challenge Tour, where he had won the Grand Final in 2001, but no victory on the main tour. Bland might not look his age, but the salt-and-pepper whiskers are a giveaway that his time on Europe’s main stage was coming to an end.

The 2021 US Open

Bland became the oldest ever player to hold a share of the US Open 36-hole lead...

“In practice I played with Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, and Rosey and Tim Barter had sent me some stuff from his visits and some notes of where not to be too aggressive. I picked Lee’s brains about 2008 and about possible pin positions. I’ve known Justin for a long time and we talked about how you would play shots from certain lies.

“I was out early on the Friday and it played quite soft and you could be a bit more aggressive. Then late on the Saturday, the greens were a lot firmer and it was harder. I was nervous going to the 1st tee, but, once I got away, it felt pretty good. I didn’t get the score I wanted, but I won’t be the last player to say that.

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