R3Tee 12:05PM


Written by
Mark Lamport-Stokes, LIV Golf Correspondent
Jun 05 2024
- 5 MIN
Bland squat dialed in

HUMBLE, Texas - As the 14-tournament LIV Golf League season enters its second half with this week's LIV Golf Houston, Cleeks GC's Richard Bland has very clear-cut goals for himself and for his team.

The newly crowned Senior PGA Championship winner is determined to finish inside the top 24 of the season-long standings for a third consecutive year, and has set his sights on staying competitive in the LIV Golf League until perhaps the end of 2026.

Now that he has a fresh experience of the winner's circle, Bland would dearly love to replicate that as soon as possible. In fact, he senses that the Cleeks are ready to celebrate their first LIV Golf team victory after a couple of recent near misses.

"I'll keep playing LIV Golf for as long as I'm good enough to compete and I can hold my position," the 51-year-old Bland said while preparing for Friday's opening round at the Golf Club of Houston. "Whether that's a few more months to the end of this year or if I can get maybe another two more years out of it, we'll see. After that, I don't see a huge amount. But right now, I'm fully focused on LIV and the Cleeks, trying to do well here in Houston."

Renowned for his consistent play and his rock-solid game from tee to green, Bland has kept his LIV Golf playing privileges for the past two seasons by finishing in the top-24 Lock Zone. He is currently ranked 25th at the halfway point this season.

He will tee off at the Golf Club of Houston energized by his fairytale debut in the over-50 ranks just two weeks ago, having won the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Michigan by three strokes after closing with a superb 8-under 63. On Tuesday night in Houston, the Cleeks team got together for dinner to celebrate that victory.

"Winning is always great," Bland smiled. "You kind of learn new things about yourself, how you handle yourself. We all make mistakes, and usually that costs us the chance of winning, and you learn from that, of course, but I think you also can learn from winning ... what kind of mindset you were in, what frame of mind you were in, what you did well, what you didn't do well.

"It will just make you better for the next time you're in that position. It doesn't mean to say that you're going to win the next one, but it just gives you a little bit more calmness that if you are in that situation again you know you can handle it, that you can do it. It gives you the best opportunity to do it again."

Cleeks captain Martin Kaymer, a former world No. 1, believes that the LIV Golf League's team environment has played an important part in Bland's growth as a successful golfer.

"We have a very good team spirit and we all get along really well," said Kaymer. "I think Richard is a people's man. When you get to know him really well, he likes to be in a team environment. Playing practice rounds, going for dinners together, really helped his spirit, besides the game of golf. We don't really have that when you play on the PGA TOUR and the European Tour. You travel a lot more, and you are on your own quite a lot. This environment here, I think it helped his golf a lot.

"I played with Richard last week, and he said, 'It helps me so much to play every single week against Bryson (DeChambeau), against Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, those guys. Back in the day, I only saw them maybe once or twice a year and played against them. Now I need to bring my "A" game every single week, and that drives me to really grind it out every single week.' That was also part of his success, that he knows he needs to give everything he has."

Several key perks come with Bland's Senior PGA Championship triumph, including entry into next year's PGA Championship. He has also has qualified for this month's U.S. Senior Open which will be held at Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island from June 27-30.

"It will nice be to go there and win again, as everybody else there is trying to win," said Bland. "Steve Stricker will be trying to win, Ernie Els will be trying to win, Padraig Harrington will be trying to win. I've never played the course before, so I don't know what I'm going to see, what the setup is going to be like.

"Obviously that's where you do your homework when you get there. Hopefully it will be a course that I like the look of, like Harbor Shores was. We'll see. Of course, you've got to go there pretty confident and all you can do is do your best. Hopefully I'll come out on top."

Before that, though, there are LIV Golf tournaments in Houston this week and in Nashville from June 21-23. Heading into this week, the Cleeks are hungry for success after producing their best-ever team finish with a runner-up spot in Singapore last month.

It was the all-European combination's third career podium spot, following third-place finishes in Bangkok in 2022 and in Jeddah last year.

"I said earlier in the year that we're going to surprise a few people in 2024," said Bland. "We could be the dark horses. Me and Martin (Kaymer), we sat in there just having a bite to eat after Singapore in the players' dining area, and we were pretty pissed off that we didn't win because Martin didn't finish as strong as he would have liked and I missed a chance on the last.

"But I said to him, 'Hey look, isn't it great that we're actually feeling like that because we haven't won?' We haven't really shown up too much the past 15 months. We got into a good position in Hong Kong and didn't quite go all the way."

At LIV Golf Hong Kong, the Cleeks contended strongly for team honors and held the lead for an extended time during the final round before slipping back into fifth spot.

In Singapore, they fired on all four cylinders before finishing in a tie for second, with LIV Golf Promotions winner Kalle Samooja leading the way as he closed with a 7-under 64. 2023 DP World Tour Player of the Year Adrian Meronk was the best-placed Cleeks player, tying for 10th. Samooja wound up joint 14th, captain Kaymer shared 19th place and Bland ended up in a tie for 22nd.

"We're certainly trending in the right direction," said Bland. "Martin is playing a lot, lot better now. He's kind of pain-free with his injury. I've played with Martin a little bit; he's hitting it great. I only see him improving."

Kaymer's 2023 campaign was negatively impacted by pre-season wrist surgery, but his health issues of the last few years are now largely behind him.

"Adrian is world class. We know that," said Bland. "I was so pleased for Kalle to finish really strong in Singapore, shooting 64 on the last day. Hopefully that will springboard him forward, give him the confidence that he can do it out here. And I've always just kind of plodded along as I do.

"We will certainly be in the hunt again very, very soon, and of course we want to stand on that podium like every team does. I really think we can finish one off this year. That would be great for everyone involved with the team. We've had a pretty tough 15 months, but we're a strong team, we're a good team. I think there's definitely more to come."

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