A year ago, it was a river of tears flowing around the final green at The Belfry as Richard Bland ended a 478 tournament winless drought to capture the Betfred British Masters.
There was an ocean of tears from those viewing coverage of one of the nicest players in golf also becoming, at age 48, the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour; only Malcolm MacKenzie, with 509, had played more tournaments before claiming his first win on the tour.
Among those to greet Bland, in a Covid spectator-restricted last day, was an equally emotional Tim Barter, his long-time coach and also SKY Sports Golf TV commentator, and between them the waterworks continued to flow.
Now 12-months on there’s a further celebration for ‘Blandy’, maybe not as tearful, but he tees-up this week in his 500th Tour event.
“It’s very special returning this week given what went on 12 months ago, it’s obviously a dream come true,” he said. “Something I had worked for for 20 years. And yeah, I knew I was getting closer to 500 tournaments, and so I kind of looked at the schedule, when it would come out, and I kind of knew it would be very close.
“I kind of tweaked it around a little bit so it would be my 500th this week. I had not played here or there to make it this week. So, I thought, I’ll make it even more special, something I’m very, very proud of.”
It’s been said often but it’s amazing what a first win does for a golfer’s career and for Bland it was no different. No sooner did he succeed at The Belfry and a few weeks later he was the sight of the Englishman proudly leading the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and in just a fifth major of his career since making his Open Championship debut in 1998.
At 48 years old, Bland became the oldest player to ever hold a share of the lead of the U.S. Open after two rounds, before falling back over the weekend to finish in a tie for 50th.
With eight top-10 finishes during the 2021 European Tour season, Bland finished a career-best 11th place on the Race to Dubai rankings.
Earlier this year, Bland finished as runner-up at the Slync.io Dubai Desert Classic, losing to Viktor Hovland in a playoff.
Being just outside the Top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking in March 2022, Bland looked to find form in order to qualify for the Masters Tournament. He won his group at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, halving with Bryson DeChambeau as well as beating Talor Gooch and Lee Westwood along the way. However, he was defeated in the last 16 by Dustin Johnson, ultimately just missing out on progressing to the Top 50.
There was another career milestone with Bland being afforded an invitation a week later in making his PGA Tour debut at the Valero Texas Open, needing a victory to get into The Masters. He recorded a Top-30 finish, seeing him move to a highest ranking of 48th.
And after the river of tears, the adulation from his fellow tour players and the messages and phone calls from just so many in the golfing world, Blandy intends to remain the affable golfer he’s always been.
“Obviously everybody was great afterwards. I think a lot of people were pleased for me because they know — and if they are trying to win their first event or multiple events, they know what it feels like. Took me a little bit longer,” he said.
“They have had that experience if they have won before.
“So, I want them to treat me as the Blandy that they knew 15 months ago before I won. And the same as how they treat me now. I still hang out with Howler and Ollie Wilson and Richie McEvoy.
“It was great to catch up with them last week. Not seen them in a little bit. We had dinner with just the four of us every single night. We have our WhatsApp group on the Senior Tour. That’s what our WhatsApp group is. We are always sort of, like we all text to say well done to Mac, last week, finishing third, so pleased for him. We are sort of close-knit the four of us. We have been out on Tour for God knows how many years.
“But what was nice up until last year, I was the only one with a zero by my name. It was nice to get that by my name. The four of us were all winners, and so yeah like I said, we all still have the same kind of banter. That’s one thing that I think is very, very special out here is we kind of are like a big family really. That’s one thing I love about the DP World.”
Well done, Blandy. Here’s to your 500th!
- Full scoring from Thursday HERE