SAN DIEGO (AP) — Richard Bland spent 25 years lugging his golf clubs across Europe, chasing a dream that improbably came true last month at the age of 48.
Whether he can stand up to the pressure of the weekend at the U.S. Open is anyone’s guess. But there’s one thing for sure: Golf’s ultimate grinder doesn’t give up easily.
Not after playing 477 European Tour events before getting a win. Not after getting into — and then getting himself into contention — in a tournament he usually watches only on TV.
Bland may not win Sunday, but it won’t be for a lack of trying.
“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?” the Englishman said of his career struggles. “I’m not that intelligent I’m afraid.”
Bland’s story was remarkable enough before he even arrived at Torrey Pines and took an immediate fancy to a golf course he had never seen. The way the holes are laid out and set up appealed to him, even if he wasn’t exactly picturing himself tied for the lead with Russell Henley going into the weekend.
With good reason. Before he broke through by winning a playoff at the British Masters last month, Bland had played professional golf since 1996 with no need to splurge for a trophy case.
He knew he had enough game to win, but it never seemed to happen. Another generation played through as the years went by, and time seemed to be running out.
Then he watched Italy’s Guido Migliozzi three-putt the first playoff hole in the British Masters last month — and suddenly he was the oldest first-time winner in European Tour history.
“The old saying is you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight,” Bland said “I’ve always had that kind of attitude that you just keep going. You never know in this game, you just keep going.”
The win helped get him into only the second U.S. Open of his career, and it didn’t take long for Bland to get into a groove at Torrey Pines. He shot a 1-under 70 in his opening round, then went out early Friday morning and tied the low round of the tournament with a 67.
If his position was unfamiliar to Bland, so were the media responsibilities that went with it. Bland was paraded from microphone to microphone to talk about his remarkable path to success, and he aced every question like he had been waiting a quarter century to talk.
The sense of humor that probably saved him many times from throwing his golf clubs into a pond after a frustrating round held up under pressure, too, when Bland was asked about the animal headcover on his driver.
“Two things I can’t stand is three-putting and animal cruelty,” he said.
As he was speaking, Bryson DeChambeau was answering some questions of his own nearby — including what he thought about Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship last month and Bland leading the Open.
“It’s incredibly inspiring,” DeChambeau said. “You look at what Phil did, winning a major, it gives him hope and it also gives me hope to play for a long, long time. I love that about the game, that anybody, any age group, can play this great game and compete and contend. If you’ve got the skill set to get the ball in the hole in the least amount of shots, you can be up there with the young guns.”
Indeed, Bland’s only real disadvantage on the weekend will be he’s a short driver on a long golf course, something he makes up for in accuracy. That’s crucial at any Open, and Torrey Pines is no exception with its narrow fairways and thick rough.
But even if Bland fades from contention this weekend — indeed, even if he hadn’t won last month — he still considers himself lucky to make a living as a professional golfer.
“I think any amateur golfer would probably give heir right arm to play it as a living,” he said. “I’ve always thought of it as I’m very fortunate that I can travel the world and play some of the best courses in the world and some of the biggest tournaments in the world.”
He’s already a winner, and in more ways than one.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg