Richard Bland interview: Dreaming of Masters invitation and ‘special’ plans to defend title in 500th event

·5-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Five times Richard Bland has lost his European Tour card, and five times he has won it back.

Coming off the back of a brilliant year where he became the oldest first-time winner on the European Tour, now the rebranded DP World Tour, there are no such concerns over his schedule in 2022.

The 48-year-old has not played on a golf course though since the Race to Dubai concluded in November, after he underwent knee surgery at the end of the season, and a positive Covid-19 test prevented him travelling to the Middle East early in the New Year as planned.

Bland’s exemption for the next two seasons at least affords him the security of not having to make a quick start to the year. However, he is not sure what to expect when he tees it up at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, having only been able to fly out on Monday.

“Not playing for two months, I just don’t know where my game will be,” Bland admits.

“You can practice, but you need that match fitness of playing. You can’t substitute that. That comes through playing rounds of golf, and that’s what I’m lacking quite severely at the minute. I don’t where my game is - I’ll know the answer after the first round on Thursday.”

Bland hit the opening tee shot at last year’s Open, which he describes as the most nerve-wracking drive of his life, and his place at the 150th Open at St Andrews in July is already secured.

A world ranking of 77th means he is also within reach of securing a place at the three majors across the Atlantic. Those inside the top 50 the week before The Masters will earn their spot at Augusta National, giving Bland just over two months to make that jump.

“I’d have to play very well between now and late March to get any opportunity of that,” Bland says. “But hey, why not?

“I’ve played Augusta, I have a friend who’s a member. I’m due to go out there in the middle of March to play again with him. We keep saying it might be an early practice round, and I hope it is.

“Every kid that grows up wanting to be a professional golfer dreams about playing in The Masters. It’s just golfing perfection. To get that invitation, I’d be sitting at the doorstep waiting for the postman every day until it arrived. I’d give my right arm to be able to play.”

Should Bland earn that opportunity, he’ll have plenty to lean back on from the last time he competed in America. The Englishman led the US Open after 36 holes last year, in just his fifth appearance at a major.

Although he finished in a tie for 50th after rounds of 77 and 78 over the weekend, Bland took real confidence from his Torrey Pines performance.

“You’re just hanging on by your fingertips from the very first tee shot you hit to the last putt you hole at a US Open,” he says.

“It just beats you up the whole time. The last two or three holes on Sunday, I was mentally done. I felt like I didn’t play that badly on the weekend, the course just gave me nothing.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“I probably took away more positives from it though than any other tournament I’ve ever played. On the toughest set-up you’re ever going to play, when my game is where it could be, it stacks up against some of the best players in the world. Then it’s just about doing that over four days.”

Whether Bland gets the chance to make his mark again across the pond remains to be seen, but the British Masters in May is very much in permanent marker on his calendar.

Victory at the tournament last year was Bland’s first European Tour title at the 478th attempt, sealed with a three-foot putt on the first play-off hole at the Belfry. Sky Sports Golf produced a documentary on the win, that was shown over Christmas.

“It was a great thrill for me, I’ll make sure that stays on the memory box for a long time,” Bland says.

“There’s still certain bits that are very vivid in my memory and always will be. Whenever I see that putt on the 18th that I holed in regulation, I do keep thinking I’m going to miss it at some point but fortunately it keeps going in.”

The tournament will return to the Belfry again this year, as Bland looks forward to the pressure that comes with teeing off as defending champion.

With 492 appearances on the European Tour to his name, a 500th start is also fast approaching on the horizon. All being well with scheduling, and events avoiding Covid disruptions in the next few months, Bland plans on combining the landmark with his title defence.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

“The British Masters will hopefully be my 500th event, which will make it doubly special for me,” Bland says.

“I know I haven’t got a huge amount of time left on Tour, so why not do it and make it really, really thrilling? It’s something I’ve had an eye on in my career for the last four or five years, it’s a real milestone. You’ve had a pretty good career if you can get to 500 tournaments. Even just to keep your playing rights, you have to play well. You can’t just turn up, these guys are too good.”

Attention will soon start to turn to the next phase of his career. The Champions Tour in the US, open to players once they turn 50, is something Bland has his eye on as he considers the years ahead.

“I’m 49 in a couple of weeks, the European Tour is a young man’s destination,” Bland says.

“Of course I can still compete, but there’s a good opportunity in America. I’m not going to keep my card in Europe forever - that’s not being negative, I’m a realistic guy.

“The Champions Tour is extremely difficult to get on to, but I’ll certainly be giving it a try later this year. I see that as hopefully my future.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting