Richard Bland has spiced up U.S. Open leaderboard

SAN DIEGO — There’s nothing bland about this story — other than the subject’s name.

If you had 48-year-old Englishman Richard Bland in your U.S. Open betting pool as being tied for the 36-hole lead with Russell Henley this week at Torrey Pines, take a bow.

Bland’s performance has continued the rough go of late for Father Time, who’s well over par in his last few rounds.

If you thought Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship last month at Kiawah Island just weeks before his 51st birthday to become the oldest player to win a major championship was a remarkable story, a U.S. Open triumph by Bland would top even that on the things-you-never-expected meter.

This is Bland’s fourth career start in a major championship and each one has been in a different decade. He’s played only once in America, at the 2009 U.S Open at Bethpage Black, where he missed the cut.

He’s in the field this week by virtue of his win at the British Masters last month, his first career European Tour victory that ended a drought of 477 starts without hoisting hardware.

“To have the lead is pretty special,’’ Bland said after shooting a 4-under 67 to get to 5-under for the tournament. “I was tied for the lead at the 2017 [British] Open for a hole, so it’s nice to have it a bit longer than that.’’

Bland’s win at the British Masters was one of the most popular in the sport in recent memory based on how long he’d worked to finally cross the finish line first and based on his dogged perseverance after losing his tour card a couple of times.

Richard Bland
Richard Bland

At age 46, Bland became the oldest player ever to graduate from the Challenge Tour to the European Tour.

So, he was understandably emotional after his win, raw emotion that elicited reaction from all around the sport.

“Today I saw something that inspired me and reminded me of why golf is the greatest game. Congrats @blandy73 on the first and wishing you many more!’’ Fred Couples tweeted.

“Unbelievable performance by one of the golden oldies. You’ve done it. Well done mate — so very deserved,’’ European Tour veteran and former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn tweeted.

“This is everything. Congratulations @blandy73. Long time coming, and the years of struggles makes this win that much more impactful. My heart swells. Love this. So much,’’ LPGA star Christina Kim tweeted.

The reactions from people Bland didn’t even know were almost as overwhelming as the victory itself.

“The first two or three days [following the win] were a bit of a blur … the first 24 hours more hangover than anything,’’ Bland said. “The social media side of it I wasn’t ready for, just getting messages from people all over the globe … just saying how inspired they were by it. That’s something I wasn’t expecting. I’m just a guy who’s won a golf tournament really, when you boil it down.

“But as it all sunk in, I think it was just more satisfaction than anything that I kind of got what I’ve always wanted. I want more. Every golfer wants more.’’

Bland has put himself in position to take more.

The win, Bland said, “was just the satisfaction that I kept going, I never gave up and I kind of got there in the end.

“You never know in this game. You just keep going.’’

If he hadn’t kept going, Bland’s not sure what he would have done.

“Golf is all I know,’’ he said. “When times got tough and I lost my [European Tour] card two or three times I’d think, ‘What am I going to do, go and get an office job?’ I’m not that intelligent, I’m afraid.’’

Before the win, Bland had 32 top-10 finishes on the European Tour, including a playoff loss at the 2002 Irish Open. He once nearly crept inside top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2016, getting as high as No. 102, before tumbling to outside the top 1,000 in 2019.

His four runner-up finishes on the Challenge Tour in 2019 year helped Bland get back to the European Tour last year.

One of the many charms about Bland is the fact he doesn’t even have a sponsor logo on his hat as most every player in this field does. The logo on his hat is from his home club in England, The Wisley.

“I don’t have a hat deal at the minute, so if anyone is offering …’’ he said with a smile.

After he was finished with his post-round interviews at that British Masters, Bland was led to a video monitor, where his parents were on screen.

“I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” his mother said.

“You and me both,” Bland responded.

Some things are worth the wait.

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