Richard Bland won’t soon forget these past few months, and he added to the scrapbook on Thursday morning at Royal St. George’s Golf Club.
The 48-year-old Bland was part of the all-English grouping that officially opened the 149th playing of the British Open. And at 6:35 a.m. (1:35 a.m. ET), given the honor, Bland pulled back a driver and struck the inaugural “nerve-wracking” shot.
“I was all right when I got on the tee,” said Bland. “But when he calls your name and yours is the first shot, the nerves cranked up a little bit. Once you got away, and I hit a nice wedge shot, you’re fine and settle down and it was playing golf as normal.”
Keep in mind, Bland is not easily rattled. The native of Southampton, England has been knocking around the European Tour since 1996. And he was prepped ahead time for his role as Thursday’s bell ringer, as he played practice rounds with Darren Clarke.
Clarke, the British Open winner at Royal St. George’s in 2011, had the privilege of hitting the inaugural shot at Royal Portrush in 2019.
“(Clarke) said, ‘Trust me, you’ll be feeling it on the first tee,'" Bland said. “He was feeling it as well. If he’s feeling it, I’m definitely going to.”
After the opening shot, Bland made par at No. 1 and went on to lead a British charge with his early morning group. With three birdies and three bogeys, Bland carded an even-par 70 and his English playing partners — Andy Sullivan and Marcus Armitage — also started well.
Sullivan was among the leaders early on, after posting a 3-under 67, while Armitage finished with a 1-under 69. Louis Oosthuizen, teeing off about an hour later, grabbed the early clubhouse lead with a 6-under 64.
For Bland, 2021 has been one highlight after another. In May, making his 478th start, he got his first European Tour win at the Betfred British Masters. At 48, he became the oldest first-time winner in the history of the tour.
A month later, Bland made more headlines at Torrey Pines. Starting the second U.S. Open of his career — first since missing the cut in 2009 — he shot 70-67 to tie for the lead after two rounds. Thus, he became the oldest ever to share the lead of a U.S. Open after two rounds.
The magic didn’t last as Bland’s 77-78 on the weekend took him out of contention. He finished tied for 50th.
Now he is playing in only his second British Open, after finishing T22 at Royal Birkdale in 2017. Where the English trio settles by week’s end remains to be seen. But the start will be one Bland cherishes forever.
“I was hoping I might get a good draw but that was something else,” Bland added. “I’m very grateful to the R&A for considering me for doing it.”
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