Richard Bland stood on the 18th green on a cloudy Saturday at The Belfry, his hands on his hips, eyes welling and head down, as Sky Sports reporter – and Bland's instructor – Tim Barter slowly slid a boom mic under his chin.
“Try and describe your emotions,” Barter asked.
“I can’t,” Bland responded, before providing a brief moment of levity. “Next question.”
After a few quick chuckles, it was evident that Barter wasn’t moving on. It had taken Bland, a 48-year-old European Tour veteran from England, nearly 20 years and 478 starts to achieve this moment. So, after defeating Guido Migliozzi, who's half Bland’s age and already a two-time European Tour winner, in a playoff for his first career victory on the tour, Bland collected himself once more and took another stab at the question.
“Yeah … just … I’ve done it,” he said. “I’ve done it.”
Two years removed from again clawing his way back from the Challenge Tour, which he had first graduated from in 2001 after what until Saturday was the only title in his 25-year pro career, Bland ensured himself the kind of job security he’s never had with his breakthrough win Saturday at the Betfred British Masters. He drained a 25-foot birdie putt on his 72nd hole for a final-round, 6-under 66 to tie the young Italian, who had three-putted his penultimate hole, at 13 under and then parred the first extra hole to become the oldest first-time winner in European Tour history.
“This is going to be pretty tough,” said Bland, who made just one bogey all week before sinking a 3-footer after Migliozzi’s three-putt from 6 feet in the playoff. “I don’t know, just had a couple of things this week. Howeller [fellow English pro David Howell] said to me he had a dream, I think it was on Wednesday, that – not this tournament – but I was going to win a tournament. And a friend of mine in America texted me after the second round, “One shot at a time, one hole at a time,” and I just had that in my head all day, just make the dream come true.”
Until Saturday, Bland had accumulated 32 top-10s on Europe’s premier circuit, including a playoff loss at the 2002 Irish Open. He nearly cracked the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2016, getting as high as No. 102, before plummeting outside the top 1,000 in 2019. But four runner-up finishes on the Challenge Tour that year helped him get back to the big tour last year.
“What was I going to do for the next three, four years?” Bland said of fighting back after that most recent relegation. “I’m getting fat as it is and it's only going to get worse. Just get your head down and do the job and get back to where I felt like I belong.”
A few well-deserved pints Saturday night – and a celebratory lamb roast dinner back home this Tuesday – likely won’t help any weight-loss attempts.
Eddie Pepperell may join him if Bland breaks into the wine. Pepperell, the event's 54-hole leader, shot 73 to drop to T-11 along with a list of notables that included Danny Willett, Matthias Schwab and Chris Wood, a former Ryder Cupper who nearly missed on his first top-10 finish in three years. Wood, a top-25 player in the world in 2016, started the week at No. 1,107.
Wood doesn't have to look far for inspiration to never give up.
After his post-round interview, Bland was led to a video monitor. On the call was his family, including his parents.
"You OK, mom?" Bland asked.
"No," she answered. "I've been waiting for this for so long."
To which Bland responded: "You and me both."