/Richard Bland proving patience pays off after surging to top of U.S. Open leaderboard – ESPN

Richard Bland proving patience pays off after surging to top of U.S. Open leaderboard – ESPN

SAN DIEGO — Richard Bland‘s Twitter profile describes him as a European Tour professional golfer with a “few weekends off.”

Until about a month ago, Bland was also a golfer without a European Tour victory — after trying in 477 events for 19½ years.

Bland, 48, finally broke through at the British Masters at The Belfry in May, beating Italy’s Guido Migliozzi on a playoff hole to become the European Tour’s oldest first-time winner.

On Friday, Bland’s improbable dream continued after he opened a 1-shot lead with a 36-hole total of 5 under after the morning wave of players in the second round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

“I knew [my game] was pretty good,” Bland said. “I was coming off a couple of good results, a win and a third in Europe. I was feeling pretty good about my game. I’ve been driving the ball well for five, six weeks now, which is the cornerstone if you’re going to put a fight up for a U.S. Open.”

The Englishman is putting up more than a fight. A day after Bland opened with a 1-under 70, he had seven birdies while carding a 4-under 67.

Not bad for a player who waited 23 years to win on the European Tour.

“As with any golf career, you’re going to have peaks and troughs,” Bland said. “Of course you are. But I just think every kind of sportsman, sportswoman, they have that never-die or that never-quit attitude, no matter whether it’s golf or it’s tennis or it’s boxing, whatever it is. 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.”

There were plenty of opportunities to quit. He lost his European Tour card three times, as recently as 2018 when he went back to the European Challenge Tour at age 46. That professional setback came after his brother fell ill and was placed in a medically induced coma.

“Golf is all I know,” Bland said. “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?’ I’m not that intelligent, I’m afraid. 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.”

Englishman Lee Westwood, who won 25 times on the European Tour and twice on the PGA Tour, said Bland was more than talented enough to win before he did.

“Richard’s always been a very steady player,” Westwood told ESPN. “I think it came as a surprise to everybody that it took him so long to win. He doesn’t hit many destructive shots and he’s got an ideal game for the U.S. Open. The only thing that surprises me is that it’s [his second] U.S. Open, and you’ve got to grasp how to play a U.S. Open golf course. I’m not surprised by how good his game is.”

Regardless of how the weekend plays out, those at the U.S. Open have found inspiration in Bland’s perseverance.

“Well, it’s incredibly inspiring,” defending champion Bryson DeChambeau said. “You look at what Phil [Mickelson] did, right, winning a major [last month’s PGA Championship at age 50], it gives him hope, and it also gives me hope to play for a long, long time, and I think that’s really inspirational. 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 quickest amount of shots, least amount of shots, you can be up there with the young guns.”

Bland’s victory at the British Masters propelled him from No. 218 in the world to No. 115. It also sent him to his fourth major — he missed cuts at the 1998 Open Championship and 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. At the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, Bland led for one hole and finished tied for 22nd.

“You know, in the qualifyings that we have in Europe, I think I’ve lost in a playoff four times for this, for a U.S. Open, and I’ve lost three times in an Open qualifying,” Bland said. “I could have maybe played closer to double-figure majors, but it’s not quite to be, and I’m not going to lose any sleep over that. I’m just enjoying this one right now.”

And the European Tour player “with a few weekends off” won’t miss this one — even if he isn’t a household name and doesn’t have the widely known sponsorships that other players have. He’s wearing a black hat with a white swan, which he brought to California from his home course, The Wisley Golf Club in Woking, England.

“I don’t have a hat kind of deal at the minute,” Bland said. “So if anyone is offering …”

If Bland continues to play this weekend like he did in the first two rounds, he won’t have to worry about endorsements anymore.

“I’m just a guy who’s won a golf tournament really, when you boil it down,” Bland said. “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. Hopefully I can do it again.”

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