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Richard Bland’s senior major on debut a victory for fighting against the odds

English veteran Richard Bland with the Senior US PGA Championship trophy
Richard Bland has won more than £10 million since his 48th birthday - AP/Don Campbell

It felt more like the end of something than a beginning, more like the icing to top off a journeyman career that would allow Richard Bland, at 48 years of age, to stroll into the sunset as a champion and not merely a grinder.

However, that record-breaking victory at the Belfry almost exactly three years ago this week was but a prelude to one of the more rousing Indian summers in the history of male professional golf, one in which he has won well in excess of £10 million since that British Masters in 2021 and one in which he ascended to the rank of major winner in Michigan on Sunday night.

Granted, the Senior US PGA Championship is ‘only’ a veterans’ major and no doubt the eyeballs of the cynics will roll with as much certainty as Bland’s ProV1s happened to at the Harbor Shores Golf Course in his debut outing with the over-50s brigade.

Yet whatever anyone says, the final-round 63 to beat Richard Green by three was of the highest quality and there could be no questioning what it meant to beat a field including the likes of Steve Stricker, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.

For the Southampton fan, it was quite the Sunday, after they had defeated Leeds in the Championship play-off final to return to the Premier League. For a 51-year-old who spent so long in the minor leagues, this was a joint celebration.

So there was genuine heartfelt emotion when he kissed the huge trophy on Lake Michigan, but Bland later found it impossible to rate this £500,000 success against that £250,000 triumph at the Belfry. That was understandable, despite the difference in prize money and the prestige of the silverware.

After all, his Belfry glory came, remarkably, in his 487th start on the European Tour and established him as the oldest ever first-time winner on the circuit. And, just like this time around, there was a family member to whom to dedicate the breakthrough.

The health struggles of Heath Bland have been intrinsically linked to the fall and resurrections of his brother. Richard lost his card in 2018 in the wake of Heath being in a coma for six-weeks as a virus attacked his heart. “That was in the January and we didn’t didn’t know whether he was going to survive or not until about the July,” Bland said. “I just wasn’t at the races and I lost my card.”

At 44, many expected Bland to retire, but he went to the Challenge Tour and surrounded by brilliant, hungry youngsters looking to make the first step, he battled to earn back his playing privileges. “Heath didn’t quit, so I wasn’t going to,” he told me late last year. “Heath has always taken great pleasure in my golf, so to be able to try and do it for him has been great motivation.”

There was also the ability to help out Heath financially and when LIV Golf came calling in early 2022, there was little prospect of him turning down the chance for financial security. He was coming up to 50 and even Keith Pelley, then DP World Tour chief executive, told him that in his shoes, he would probably do the same. But then, Heath became poorly again.

“He got diagnosed with bowel cancer. He had chemotherapy and radiology and had his bowel and his prostate and bladder removed,” Bland said. “They put him in remission but went for a scan about two weeks ago and has been diagnosed with lung cancer. We’ll find out next week what is next for him. So, yeah, I’m just so pleased that I could do this for him. This doesn’t feel like it’s my tournament, it’s his.”

Heath will go on fighting and Richard will go on swinging, primarily on LIV Golf and then in other tournaments in which this win has secured his berth, such as next year’s US PGA Championship proper and next month’s Senior US Open. The Senior US PGA champion normally gets access to the Senior Open, but the R&A and the DP World Tour – which run that major jointly – will be relieved that LIV has an event that week and Bland would not be able to tee it up at Carnoustie regardless.

Last year, they turned down a request from Bland and Lee Westwood to compete at Royal Porthcawl because the Tour insists the duo have outstanding fines to be paid for their LIV participation; a claim the pair denies.

Credit to the PGA of America for rising above the continuing infighting and for recognising the potential inspiration in his story by extending an invite to Harbor Shores. Bland is a humble guy and acknowledged that he was “probably only a number filler” when LIV launched in 2022. Since then, he has performed with more distinction than fellow English vets Westwood and Ian Poulter and against some of the game’s best. He has justified his berth by merit alone.

“I’ve always told myself ‘you’ve still got something left to offer in this game’ and I’ve kept working hard,” Bland said. “You know, my school report always said I was a slow learner - but I guess I’ve figured it out in the end.”

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