48-year-old Englishman Richard Bland waited 20 years for his first European Tour win. This week at Torrey Pines, he’ll sleep on the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open
Richard Bland isn’t your typical major championship leader. His beard is greying. He doesn’t hit it far off the tee. Despite a professional career that dates back to before many of the current players in the U.S. Open were born, he doesn’t have a lot of experience on this kind of stage.
But 2021 is turning out to be a year when Bland, the 48-year-old Englishman, shatters all expectations. First, he won the Betfred British Masters last month, his first win on the European Tour after two decades and 478 career starts. Then, on Friday at Torrey Pines, he took the lead after his second round at the U.S. Open.
Bland made seven birdies in a four-under round of 67, finishing his first 36-holes of only his fourth major championship at five-under, a shot ahead of Louis Oosthuizen for the clubhouse lead. He would be the oldest 36-hole leader in the 121-year history of the championship.
Bland began his round on the 10th hole, where he made a 28-foot putt for birdie. He holed an 18-footer on 16 and made the turn in two-under. On his second-nine, he made three birdies in a span of five holes to go five-under for his round before dropping a shot at the par-three eighth.
If golf is becoming a young man’s game full of players that can bomb it off the tee, then the old guard is taking one last stand. Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship in May at the age of 50. Bland is just three years younger and would be the oldest U.S. Open champion. Mickelson was ranked 115th when he won at Kiawah Island; Bland came to Torrey Pines ranked, in a strange coincidence, 115th.
Bland turned pro in 1996, the same year another player currently in the top-10, Scottie Scheffler, was born. He played his first major, the Open Championship in 1998, before Matthew Wolff, also in the top-10, was alive. He’s made only one appearance at the U.S. Open, missing the cut at Bethpage in 2009.
U.S. Open: Richard Bland has overcome long odds before
That long career has taken him many places. Two years ago, at the age of 46, Bland lost his status on the European Tour. It would’ve been easy for a player his age to give it up, to go seek another job. He stuck it out, playing on the Challenge Tour in 2019 in such places as Slovakia and Morocco.
“Golf is all I know. When times got tough and I lost my card two or three times, I think, what am I going to do, go and get an office job,” he said following his round on Friday. “So it was just, right, okay, I’ve always been someone that can get my head down and work hard, and I always knew I had the game to compete on the European Tour at the highest level. I’ve always known that.”
Bland ranks 108th in driving distance so far this week. Bryson DeChambeau drives it 38 yards past him on average. He doesn’t even have a hat sponsor, instead wearing the headgear of his home club back home in England, The Wisley, that features a big white swan.
He was nearly in tears when he won at the Belfry last month. All the miles traveled, all the countries visited, all the hard work he’s put in for more than 20 years, finally paid off. He’s being rewarded for that patience and perseverance so far this week.
“The old saying is you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight. I’ve always had that kind of attitude that you just keep going. You never know in this game, you just keep going,” he said.
Bland never gave up on his dream, and it has brought him here, halfway to the U.S. Open title. He was a long shot at the start, but he’s already shown this year he doesn’t mind one bit.