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BLAND’S SENIOR DEBUT ENDS WITH A MAJOR VICTORY

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Written by
Mike McAllister
May 26 2024
- 5 MIN
Bland Senior Pga STORY image

Richard Bland maintained a stoic game face Sunday as he climbed atop the leaderboard at the Senior PGA Championship. He finally allowed himself to smile and celebrate on the 18th green, just before tapping in for par for a final-round 8-under 63 to complete a four-stroke win and become a senior major champion. 

But the real emotions came through a few minutes later when he was asked about his older brother Heath, who has been battling stomach cancer for more than a year and just received a diagnosis of lung cancer last week. Bland, standing next to the 36-pound, 3-1/2 foot high Bourne Trophy that goes to the Senior PGA winner, couldn’t help but shed tears.

“This isn’t mine,” Bland said, glancing over at the trophy. “It’s his.”

The motivation of playing for his brother was certainly a huge factor in the 51-year-old Bland’s wildly successful senior debut. It’s been a motivator for many years, in fact. It was in 2017 when Heath began suffering serious health problems, as a virus attacked his heart.

“He was in a coma for six weeks over Christmas end of 2017; actually died twice,” Richard recalled. “So when I started back playing in January, we didn't know whether he was going to survive or not. It wasn't until about July, August that we knew he was pretty much OK.”

Bland struggled in 2018 and lost his card. Some people questioned him directly: Was his career done?

“That never entered my head,” he said. “I was always like, I've still got something left in this game, and I kept working hard. Went back to the Challenge Tour and got my card straight back, and fortunately it's been a kind of like an upward trend from there.

“My school report always said he was a slow learner, so I've kind of figured it out in the end, I think.”

His broke through with his first DP World Tour victory in 2021 in his 478th career start, becoming the tour’s oldest first-time winner at age 48.

A year later, he joined LIV Golf, and is one of the league’s steadiest performers as a member of Cleeks GC. In each of the first two years, he’s finished inside the top 24 of the season-long standings, the Lock Zone that secures a spot for the next season. He’s currently 25th at the halfway point this season.

On Sunday at Harbor Shores in Michigan – a course Bland had never seen until Monday – he was more than steady. Bouncing back from a disappointing third-round 74, Bland’s putting stroke returned, and his usual accurate tee-to-green game was in full effect. He made six birdies in his front nine to shoot 31, then continued the hot streak with birdies on the 10th and 12th holes.

He took control of the leaderboard with a 6-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th, but then had to endure a lengthy delay due to inclement weather. He hung out with old DP World Tour friend Bradley Dredge, who kept him loose.

“Just calling each other stupid names like we always do,” Bland said. “So, it kept me very relaxed. Took my mind off it.”

He parred the final three holes while his closest pursuer, Australian Greg Chalmers, bogeyed the final three and ultimately dropped to third place.

“He [Bland] played beautiful golf today,” Chalmers said. “He played the best golf and absolutely deserves the trophy. It was fun to watch.”

Several key perks come with the victory, including entry into next year’s PGA Championship. Bland also has qualified for next month’s U.S. Senior Open on June 27-30. Before that, his next two starts will be the LIV Golf tournaments in Houston (June 7-9) and Nashville (June 21-23). 

Seven days ago, Bland arrived at the Senior PGA with devastating news of his brother and not knowing how his game would fare against golf’s best senior players. He now has a trophy that carries a lot of meaning – and hopefully, inspiration for Heath.

“You know, there are a lot of great players out here, so coming into this week I was hoping that I had a good enough game to compete,” Bland said. “I'm glad that I've shown that obviously to myself for my own confidence going forward. So, yeah, hopefully there is more to come.”

(Photo by Ryan Lochhead/PGA of America)

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