Smooth-swinging Fred Couples hailed Richard Bland’s breakthrough victory as the reason “why golf is the greatest game” after the 48-year old Englishman won his first European Tour event at the 478th time of trying.
Bland overcame plucky Italian Guido Migliozzi in a playoff at The Belfry on Saturday, becoming the oldest first-time winner in European Tour history. Emotional scenes ensued with Bland embraced by long-time coach and Sky commentator, Tim Barter post-round and amongst those gripped by the best story in golf over the weekend was 1992 Masters Champion Couples.
“Today I saw something that inspired me and reminded me of why golf is the greatest game,” Couples said. “Richard Bland who hadn’t won in his previous 478 professional starts wins the British Masters in a play-off on the European tour. Congrats @blandy73 on the first and wishing you many more!”
Bland’s win captured the hearts of golfers the world over with Luke Donald, the former world number one currently fighting back from his own fairway struggles, also quick to acknowledge the victory of one of the game’s great grafters, Bland.
“So happy for you @blandy73 – golf is a such a grind, there are so many ups and downs, but to keep persevering and to finally breakthrough for that 1st European Tour win must feel bloody amazing. Congrats champ,” Donald wrote, himself going on to a tied-13th finish at the Byron Nelson where he fired rounds of 66 and 67 over an inspired weekend.
For victory hero Bland himself, no doubt his maiden trip to the winner’s enclosure is one that’s still sinking in, but it’s also a lesson in never giving up – not that the thought ever crossed the mind of the hard-working Englishman.
“Never,” he said. “You question yourself at times, of course you do. I assume we all have. I read last night the blog that Chris Wood wrote. It was on Twitter last night. You read what he’s been through. Woody’s a great lad and you know he’s had some struggles. I didn’t know he went that low.
“Like he said, I don’t quit. Even if I’m having a bad day – you might be frustrated by it – but you never throw the towel in because you never know in this game what’s round the corner. I always knew I could do it. Some of my friends out here have won. You think if they can win, surely I can do it. I’ve left it a little late, but better late than never.”
Not only did Bland refuse to quit but he also came back from the brink of failure despite a man in the latter half of his forties seemingly having the odds stacked against such renaissances. Losing his European Tour card in 2018 was the biggest blow but not even that haymaker to the gut could keep a good man down.
“There were a few things going on at home, my brother was ill, so my mind wasn’t on golf for the first four or five months of the year. This is one for him as well,” Bland added.
“It took a lot of guts to go back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old. You’re probably old enough to be most of the guys’ father. I got my head down, I’m pretty good at that. When I put my mind to something I can just get my head down and go and do it. That’s what I did. I know I’ve got to go to places I don’t want to go to, but I knew there was unfinished business out here. I’m just pleased that I proved myself – that I can do.
“Whether I get to do it again, I hope so. I loved it out there today, down the stretch. I had a one shot lead with five or six to go and I hit the shots when I needed to. That’s a huge confidence booster going forwards. Who knows? I hope there may be another one. It might be like buses, two come along in quick succession. Right now I’m really pleased I’ve got my hands on this one.”