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.

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“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?

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As Father's Day nears, the dad of late caddie Bruce Edwards looks back at his incredible life

Ensuring his children got a top education was a priority for Jay Edwards. After all, Edwards’ father was a dentist. Edwards' (...)

As Father's Day nears, the dad of late caddie Bruce Edwards looks back at his incredible life

Ensuring his children got a top education was a priority for Jay Edwards.

After all, Edwards’ father was a dentist. Edwards’ grandfather, a physician, made house calls on horseback in New Jersey before anyone envisioned the Garden State Parkway.

Jay Edwards was pushed to graduate high school at age 15, before heading to the University of Pennsylvania and becoming a dentist. He met his wife, Natalie, at the Ivy League college.

So after serving in the Army during the Korean War and opening a practice in Wethersfield, Connecticut, he and Natalie raised their four children with the goal of getting them a great education so they could attend the colleges of their choice.

In the end, three of the Edwards children matriculated, leading to successful professional careers.

The challenging second child

Then there was their second child, Bruce, who Edwards went to pick up the first day of kindergarten.

“All the kids came out,” Edwards told author John Feinstein, “except for Bruce. I waited a little bit, and still no Bruce. Finally, I turned to one of his friends who was leaving and said, ‘Where’s Bruce?’ He said, ‘Brucie bad boy.’ … Little did I know, it was just the beginning.”

It began a challenging relationship many children might relate to on Father’s Day.

“Bruce was always pushing the envelope,” Jay Edwards, 92, a widower who has lived in Vero Beach since 2000, told me the other day. “He caused more gray hairs on my head and his mother’s because of all his shenanigans.”

While Bruce didn’t get in serious trouble — he’d accept a dare now and then from schoolmates, his father said — he didn’t meet high parental standards in school.

“He had the attention span of a flea,” Jay said. “He had a high IQ; he was a pain in the (you know what) to a lot of his teachers.”

Even in parochial and private schools, Jay said.

Tom Watson hugs caddie Bruce Edwards after winning the 1982 U.S. Open.

Finding a passion at Wethersfield CC

At age 10 or 11, though, Bruce found a passion — even if only for a few months a year.

The Edwardses had joined Wethersfield Country Club, which had one of the best youth caddie programs in the nation. It was so good, Jay said, the PGA Tour agreed to use youth caddies during its annual tournament there in the 1960s.

Bruce became one of those caddies, eventually carrying Dick Lotz’ bag at the Greater Hartford Open a few times, Jay said.

Bruce’s younger brother, Brian, also caddied at Wethersfield most summer weekends. It was hard work carrying two bags at a time for 18 holes in the morning, then going back for two more in the afternoon.

“You were whipped, but you felt like you were rich,” said Brian, noting he and his brother could get $2 to $5 per bag per round.

On Sundays after their rounds, the family had dinner watching the final holes of that week’s PGA event on TV.

Jay and Natalie were happy they and Bruce had a common love for golf, but school had to take priority. After all, said Gwyn Dieterle, the youngest Edwards daughter, her father was old school and driven.

“Bruce was always going to be a rebel and do what he wanted to do,” said Gwyn, noting he loved time with his friends. No one told him what to do, where to be or what to study.

While their firstborn headed to a top university en route to becoming a Naval intelligence officer, the Edwards knew getting Bruce through high school would be a struggle, Jay said.

College? Next stop the PGA

Instead of going to college after graduation, Bruce and his friends looked for caddie jobs at PGA events, making peanuts. Jay and Natalie were concerned their son was traveling on limited means from tour stop to tour stop.

“He was on the road a lot,” Jay said, noting one time Bruce called from Texas to say he’d be on the sideline of college football’s Cotton Bowl holding an audio dish. “He’d always land on his feet. … He never asked for money.”

Still, Jay said he and his wife hoped Bruce would get caddying out of his system and go to college. By the time Bruce was 19 in 1973, he started carrying the bag of a winless pro only five years older. The two hit it off.

Tom Watson holds his putter aloft and gets a handshake from his caddie Bruce Edwards after winning the fourth annual Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, May 28, 1979. He finished the 72 holes at 3-under par 285. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Meeting a young Tom Watson

Stanford-educated Tom Watson started the final round atop the U.S. Open leaderboard on Father’s Day 1974, before shooting a 79, without Bruce. Back then tournaments like the Open, and the Western Open, which Watson won (earning $40,000 a few weeks later), did not allow players to bring their own caddies.

The duo didn’t win their first tournament together until May 1975, also netting $40,000, with $2,400 going to Bruce. Watson, who would win 39 tournaments, including six majors, was becoming a star. It became clear to his family Bruce wasn’t going to give up the bag to go to college.

In Wethersfield, Sunday night dinners became more exciting.

“It was an event,” Gwyn said, noting her mom would make pasta and cover the TV trays in the den with newspapers. “It was nice to have somebody to root for.”

Brian also remembers those Sunday dinners.

“It was just kind of wild to see your brother on TV,” said Brian, who caddied on tour after college before deciding to go to dental school. “We’d always follow and see who (Bruce) was working for. It was kind of a way to keep tabs on him.”

On Father’s Day 1982, Watson won the U.S. Open, with a legendary chip in on the penultimate hole to cement a lead over Jack Nicklaus. After the round, Watson credited Bruce for his encouragement and putt reading.

Bruce and Tom were partners for most of the next 20 years. In 2002, Watson and friends detected a slur in Bruce’s speech. In January 2003, the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota diagnosed Bruce with Lou Gehrig’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which attacks nerves that control muscles. Life expectancy is two to five years.

Jay Edwards, 92, a retired dentist now living in Vero Beach, sits next to the Golf Writers Association of America’s Ben Hogan Award he accepted on behalf of his son Bruce Edwards, the longtime caddy for professional golfer Tom Watson. Bruce Edwards was honored with the award in 2004 while remaining active in the sport while suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Jay Edwards accepted the award for his son in April 2004 in Augusta, Georgia on the eve of the Masters tournament. By the following morning, Bruce Edwards had succumbed to his illness at the age of 49. (Photo by Patrick Dove/TC Palm/USA Today Network)

Parents learn about ALS diagnosis

Bruce had to make the trip to Vero Beach, with his new fiancé, to tell Jay and Natalie.

“All I could think was that I was going to break my parents’ hearts.” Bruce told Feinstein for his book, “Caddy for Life.”

Jay’s older sister and longtime Vero Beach resident Joan Walsh, who saw Bruce as a charming free spirit, was there in an effort to soften the blow. Over the years, Walsh and other family members came to think Bruce’s school challenges stemmed from an attention-deficit issue undetected in the early 1960s.

When Bruce told his parents about the ALS, Feinstein wrote, it was the first time he’d ever seen his father cry, inconsolably.

“We both knew exactly what ALS was and what it means to have the disease,” Jay told Feinstein. “I kept trying to get ahold of myself, but every time I thought about my son. …”

Tom Watson talks with his caddie Bruce Edwards on the par 3 15th hole during the third round of the Ford Senior Players Championship on July 12, 2003 at the TPC of Michigan in Dearborn, Michigan. Edwards died April 8, 2004 aged 49 after battling against a degenerative wasting disease since 2003. Edwards caddied for eight-time majors winner Tom Watson for more than 30 years. (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)

Aging Watson’s U.S. Open hope

Bruce, however, wouldn’t give up. That Father’s Day weekend, he was on Watson’s bag as the 53-year-old golfer shot a 65 to lead the first round of the U.S. Open. He continued to carry Watson’s bag as long as he could, into November 2003.

In April 2004, Bruce was unable to travel to Augusta, Georgia, to receive the Golf Writers Association of America’s Ben Hogan Award, given annually on the eve of the Masters, his favorite tournament. The award honors a person in golf who remains active while overcoming adversity.

Jay accepted the award for his son.

“My son is a very brave man facing this terminal disease with dignity and courage,” Jay told the gathering, later telling interviewers his son had “courage” and “grace under the greatest pressure.”

By the next morning, Bruce had passed at age 49.

Watson pledged to find a cure for ALS. He and Feinstein created the Bruce Edwards Foundation, which has raised more than $6 million to fund the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins and other efforts.

“Bruce’s legacy will go down as somebody who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” Watson told interviewers for a Golf Channel presentation of “Caddy for Life.” “He does things for the right reasons. He loved sport with a passion. He loved caddying more than anything else in his life.”

He was so good at it, he’s been considered one of the best ever, among a group who made caddying a true profession. Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddie, called Bruce the Arnold Palmer of caddies.

In the end, Bruce got a great education. It just happened to be in an informal school his parents had never considered. But Jay and Natalie were successful in making sure Bruce had the values to become the best at what he did.

For the book, Jay told Feinstein:

“Who knows, if he hadn’t ended up with Tom Watson maybe he would have come home, but I’m not sure. He loved the life out there. He made lots of friends, good friends, and he really found a niche doing what he was doing. He was right, we were wrong. I’m really proud of what he has become.”

Nowadays, Jay is thankful for the efforts of Watson and Feinstein in the fight against ALS.

On Father’s Day, Jay likely will continue the tradition: watching golf and Zooming with his children. They visited him in May for the first time in 18 months after their COVID-19 vaccinations.

Bruce remains with Jay, too. He’s heartened when he sees Bruce’s name still mentioned in golf coverage.

“When you lose a child it never goes away,” he told me. “It violates the laws of nature.”

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at larry.reisman@tcpalm.com, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

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