He shaved the salt-and-pepper beard he’d been wearing before teeing off in his second U.S. Open, perhaps hoping he might not look so old next to professional golf’s younger stars. But not only did Richard Bland blend in, he now stands at the top of the leaderboard almost halfway through the second round at Torrey Pines.
The 48-year-old Bland recorded a 4-under 67 on Friday for a 5-under total of 137 and a one-shot lead at the time he signed his scorecard. And had it not been for the most unexpected turn of events, Bland would have been home in England watching this one on television. Instead, everyone at home was watching him.
Bland made it into the U.S. Open on the strength of his playoff victory at the British Masters at the Belfry in England a little more than a month ago. It was his first European Tour victory in his 478th event in nearly 20 years, making him the oldest first-time winner on that Tour. Bland’s notoriety was elevated in a short period of time.
“For a few days, it was pretty different,” Bland said after his round on Friday. “The media, then the social media took off. It was a little overwhelming, getting messages from all over the world from people saying they were going to keep their dream going. That was something I really didn’t expect.”
Bland knew little-to-nothing about Torrey Pines and gleaned some information and local knowledge from fellow Englishmen Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, along with his coach, Tim Barter, who is also a golf broadcaster. In fact, it was Barter who interviewed Bland immediately after his victory.
“I’ve been driving the ball well for a while now and that’s critical in a U.S. Open,” Bland said. “I’m not one of the longer drivers out here, so for me, hitting fairways is a premium. I felt like if I kept driving it well, I might have some success.”
With that success comes higher expectations. But Bland is being careful not to let the moment get away from him.
“You look at the leaderboard and see who’s behind, there are a lot of guys with a lot more on their CV than I do,” Bland said. “But I’m going to do everything I can on the weekend to be there or thereabouts.”
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