Lynch: The U.S. Open, the meanest major of them all, doesn’t do fairytales, but Richard Bland believes

Richard Bland emerged as an unlikely hero at the U.S. Open even though this championship has never really been an incubator of fairytales.

Lynch: The U.S. Open, the meanest major of them all, doesn’t do fairytales, but Richard Bland believes

SAN DIEGO — Despite the decades of ceaseless agitprop—Francis Ouimet’s upset, Ben Hogan’s comeback, Payne Stewart’s farewell, e pluribus unum marketing—the U.S. Open has never really been an incubator of fairytales. Of dramas, sure. And thrillers. But the previous 120 editions of this championship have witnessed more horrors than syrupy, feel-good fables.

That might explain why Richard Bland was beating balls on the range long after completing his second round at the top of the leaderboard at Torrey Pines. In U.S. Opens, nice guys with a great back story—the 48-year-old Englishman just won his first event in his 478th start—tend to meet the same fate as that kid in a slasher movie who decides to go investigate the noise.

We watch, hoping for the best but with a grim sense of foreboding.

Bland won’t be alone in feeling the vice tighten over the next 48 hours at Torrey Pines to where only one man (maybe) is still drawing breath. The U.S. Open is the most pitiless of the majors, each day a punishing gauntlet from which no competitor ever seems to emerge saying he shot the best score possible. Every round concludes with an official tallying of strokes, and a more private, rueful accounting of those left out there. By mid-afternoon Friday, the 156 players in the field had passed 1,000 bogeys made with the likelihood of a couple hundred more before sunset.

The South Course at Torrey Pines is the most architecturally prosaic venue the USGA visits and would be Exhibit ‘A’ in any malpractice suit against the ‘Open Doctor,’ Rees Jones. But it is adequate for what modern U.S. Opens are intended to do, which is expose every weakness from technical flaws to faintness of heart. Laudable design is immaterial to that objective on the logic that any course can be made difficult. It requires only fertilizer, green rollers and a dab of sadism.

Check. Check. And check.

The leaderboard at the 121st Open is bookended by men in their late 40s: Bland and, 22 strokes to his south, an Australian qualifier named Steve Allan. Until this week, Allan hadn’t competed in a major for 11 years and hadn’t made a cut in one for 16 years. He and Bland have combined for 13 career starts in major championships, just a few more than Phil Mickelson’s six victories in them.

Steve Allan plays a shot on the 17th hole during the second round at the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, Calif. on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Darren Carroll/USGA)

Unlike at the Masters, a U.S. Open leaderboard is where kings and cobblers collide. Just 34 days ago, Bland was unknown to even attentive golf fans. Now he finds himself being pursued by guys like Louis Oosthuizen, Bubba Watson and Brooks Koepka (who has won more majors than his prey has played). The elite and the everyman mingle at the other end of matters too. Allan was only four shots worse than Justin Rose, who has finished top 8 in both previous majors this year. On any given day, the talent gap between the best and the rest just isn’t that yawning.

Allan will have some well-known company at the airline check-in desk tonight. Will Zalatoris was runner-up at the Masters and hit as many greens in two days as the leader (26), but a balky putter condemned him. Webb Simpson had won the U.S. Open as many times as he had missed the cut, until today. Billy Horschel, Sam Burns and Garrick Higgo are all good enough to have won recently on the PGA Tour, but weren’t good enough this week to survive the cut. One troubled phenom returned (Matt Wolff) while a comparatively serene one (Viktor Hovland) departed early, WD’ing with an eye injury.

As the second round began to wind down, the north and south poles of the halfway leaderboard were separated by only nine shots. Like most Friday afternoons at U.S. Opens, players made progress long after they had completed their rounds. Rory McIlroy signed for a scrappy 73 shortly before 1 p.m. that left him 1 over for the tournament but he figured he’d be in the top 20 by day’s end. Within a couple hours, he was. Veterans of Open wars—in experience, if not in age— know that sometimes you just have to sit back and let the USGA do its work for you.

The man who spent much of the day in the lead, has only ever played one U.S. Open. But Bland has taken his share of gut punches. He lost several playoffs in qualifying. “I’m not going to lose any sleep over that,” he said cheerfully. “I’m just enjoying this one right now.” When you come across a 48-year-old man who believes in fairytales because he’s seen too much of the other side, it makes you want to believe right along with him. No matter how much we are conditioned to expect something else. Odds are that Bland won’t sleep tonight, but he will dream.

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U.S. Open leader Richard Bland, 48, wants to 'give those gym-goers a run for their money'

Playing in the U.S. for just the second time, Richard Bland shot a Friday 67 to take the clubhouse lead at the 121st U.S. Open.

U.S. Open leader Richard Bland, 48, wants to 'give those gym-goers a run for their money'

SAN DIEGO – As Englishman Richard Bland walked from one media stop to the next after shooting a second-round 67 at the 121st U.S. Open, he smiled and said, “Rory has to do this week in, week out, huh?”

That would be Rory McIlroy, the former World No. 1 and four-time major winner who is one of the faces of golf and usually in demand for the post-round car wash of media obligations. But this week he’s looking up at Bland, a 48-year-old journeyman pro playing in the U.S. for just the second time and his fourth major championship. All of this was new to Bland, who made 478 starts on the European Tour before becoming the oldest first-time winner on the circuit last month at the Betfred British Masters.

That victory combined with a third-place finish in Denmark helped book a spot in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and Bland is taking advantage, following up a 1-under 70 on Thursday by carding seven birdies in a round of 67 on the South Course and becoming the surprise clubhouse leader by one stroke over South African Louis Oosthuizen. If it holds up, he will be the oldest 36-hole leader in U.S. Open history.

But Bland didn’t sound surprised to be in the trophy hunt. “When I saw this place on Monday, it kind of set up to my eye,” he said. “It’s all there just straight in front of me, and that’s the kind of golf course I like. I thought, I can play around here.”

In his Twitter bio, Bland states that he is a European Tour professional golfer during the week, the joke being that he’s taken a few too many weekends off over the year. It was just two years ago, at age 46, that Bland missed so many 36-hole cuts that he was demoted to the Challenge Tour, the minor league circuit of the European Tour. But he never gave up and ignored the signs that he might be washed up. He still believed that he could regain his form and eventually win, and he did just that.

U.S. Open: Leaderboard | Photo gallery

“What am I going to do, go and get an office job? I’m not that intelligent, I’m afraid,” he said. “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.”

His joy after beating Italy’s Guido Migliozzi with a par on the first playoff hole was something to behold and it became one of the feel-good stories of the year. Only Malcolm MacKenzie had played more European Tour events (509) before winning his maiden title. The response on social media, with the likes of Fred Couples and Lee Westwood sending congratulations, overwhelmed Bland.

Richard Bland waves after his putt on the ninth green during the second round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m just a guy who’s won a golf tournament really, when you boil it down,” he 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.”

Perhaps his caddie, Australian Kyle Roadley, summarized his bosses perseverance best.

“A lot of tenacity, a lot of hard work, there’s a lot of guys that come and go in this game and to stick at it for as long as he has, hats off to him,” he said.

A spot in the U.S. Open – just his fourth major in his career, one per decade beginning with the 1998 British Open – was among the spoils of victory but he still floated in under the radar. He doesn’t even have a sponsor for his ball cap, sporting the logo of his home club, The Wisley Club in Woking, England, which gave him 10 hats to wear this week.

“So, if anyone is offering,” he said with a smile.

Don’t be surprised if he shows up with a sponsor by his Saturday tee time. His rhinoceros headcover also is telling, part of a charitable commitment in which he donates money for every birdie he makes to an organization called Birdies4Rhinos.

“Two things I can’t stand is three-putting and animal cruelty,” he said.

The putter behaved on Friday. Starting his round on hole No. 10, Bland carded birdies on five of his first eleven holes and climbed to 6 under for the championship before giving a stroke back at No. 8. It made for an easy day on the bag for the man nicknamed Roach.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Roadley said. “I’m just out there peeling bananas and telling him where the wind is, pretty much.”

U.S. Open

The caddie for Richard Bland holds the sixth green pin flag during the second round of the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Roadley is 53 and was on the bag last year when Finland’s Sami Valimaki, 22, won the European Tour’s Oman Open. But he got canned because Valimaki wanted a caddie more his age that he could relate to. Roadley began working for Bland in December during the tour’s South African swing and said they were just a pair of graybeards giving it their best.

“Rolling back the years, baby, that’s what it is all about,” Roadley said.

In a year where Stewart Cink won at 48 and Phil Mickelson became the first 50-year-old to claim a major, Bland said he was going to “give those gym-goers a run for their money.”

His confidence is high and he’s finding fairways, something that he’s been doing with regularity since a driver change last month. Bland spent some time last week with his golf coach, longtime Sky Sport TV reporter Tim Barter, who he calls the best coach in the game.

“In golfing terms, we just kind of speak the same language,” Bland said. “He’s part of the furniture. Just took me 20 years to listen to him.”

Listen up, golf fans, it took Bland 478 events to win the first time. Who says it can’t take just four to win a major?

Source : Golf Week More   

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