Richard Bland leading the way at the U.S. Open … wait, who?

TORREY PINES, Calif. — Let’s start with the hat — black, with a swan on it.

“This is just my golf club back home,” Richard Bland said. “I don't have a hat kind of deal at the minute. So if anyone is offering …”

The guy leading the U.S. Open after two rounds doesn’t have a hat deal. And that’s just the start of it.

If you’re wondering who the hell Richard Bland is, well, join the club. He’s not some newcomer. He’s a 48-year-old Englishman. He played his first major — The Open — in 1998. He missed the cut. He played his second major — the U.S. Open — in 2009. He missed the cut there, too. He played his third major in 2017 — The Open again, where he briefly held the lead for a single hole and wound up finishing 22nd. And now this, the 2021 U.S. Open. That’s the entirety of his major career, spread out over three decades.

Along the way he played in 477 European Tour events … and never won once. The 478th start proved to be the charm, a win at the Betfred British Masters in May, which vaulted him 100 spots up the world rankings (to 134) and more importantly qualified him for the U.S. Open.

So, that’s the backstory.

And now you may be wondering, how the hell does a guy stick through 477 losses over 20-plus years?

“Golf is all I know,” he said. “When times got tough and I lost my [European Tour] card two or three times, I think, ‘What am I going to do, go and get an office job?’ I'm not that intelligent, I'm afraid.”

He’d post a few top-10 finishes every season, a second or third every blue moon and earn a few hundred thousand Euros a year. Just good enough to hang on, but not quite good enough to thrive.

Does that make his career a failure, or does hanging around for 20 years, eking out a decent living playing golf make it a success?

“I think any amateur golfer would probably give their right arm to play it as a living,” he said. “I think they might think something different if they did play it for a living, but yeah, I've always … thought of it as I'm very fortunate that I can travel the world and play some of the best courses in the world and some of the biggest tournaments in the world.

“I'm certainly not looking at my career just now as sort of lack of success or anything like that. I just feel privileged that I can do what I can do.”

Having hung on this long, Richard Bland, the guy without a hat deal, is reaping the reward.

On his Twitter bio, Blandy, as he’s called, describes himself as a “European tour professional golfer during the week (few weekends off).”

Is that a bit of a self troll?

“Yeah, well, we're in a sport where you're going to miss some cuts, so yeah,” he explained. “I've had a few weeks off, weekends off in my career, so yeah.”

Not this weekend. Now, Richard Bland, the guy without a hat deal, will tee off Saturday possibly in the final pairing of the U.S. Open.

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