- Alistair Tait
Bland Deserves Honourable Mention
Let’s be clear, Jon Rahm is a far better golf than Richard Bland. The Spaniard is certainly worthy of the 2021 Seve Ballesteros Award as Europe's player of the year.
But Bland deserves honourable mention for the season of his life last year.
As the European Tour points out in announcing Rahm’s award after a vote by European Tour members, it is the second time the Spaniard has won the award in three years, this time thanks to winning the U.S. Open, top 10 finishes in the other three majors, and Europe’s leading points scorer in the Ryder Cup.
“In the first year of this being the Tour’s combined Player of the Year award named in honour of one Spanish great, it is fitting the winner is another incredible Spaniard who is creating his own remarkable legacy on the global stage,” said European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley.
“Jon’s form throughout 2021 was simply outstanding and his victory at the U.S. Open, in front of his family, was undoubtedly a highlight that will live long in the memory. That cemented his place among the pantheon of Europe’s all-time leading players and his contribution in the colours of Europe at the Ryder Cup also demonstrated what an extraordinary competitor he is.”
No argument there. You won’t find many who think Rahm won’t win more majors, perhaps more than Seve’s five. As for Ryder Cups, at 27 the Spaniard should form the backbone of European teams for the next decade at least.
Bland? He won the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett, a tournament Rahm probably wouldn’t board a private plane to play in. Bland has never come close to a Ryder Cup place, a major victory, and his next W will probably come on the Legends Tour.
But what a story he penned in 2021. It was the fairy tale story of the year, and another inspirational reminder that you should never give up in this game. The 48 year old turned up at The Belfry last year winless in 477 European Tour starts. He’d made eight trips to the European Tour Qualifying School, only two of them successful. He'd had to swallow his pride at age 46 and play on the Challenge Tour against competitors young enough to be his sons.
Qualifying School and European Challenge Tour are terms Rahm is not familiar with.
However, magically, after years of beating his head against clubhouse walls, everything coalesced for Bland at The Belfry. It was a win for the romantics.
Better still, Bland backed up the victory with another six top-10 starts. He tugged at the heart strings of Horatio Alger fans when he held the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open. Cue “Who is Richard Bland?” headlines in many American media outlets. Unfortunately, he closed with rounds of 77 and 78 to finish T50 and ruin the Jack Fleck story line.
Bland finished a nose-bleed 11th on the Race to Duba last year, not bad considering his best previous rankings were 27th, 65th, 66th, 72nd and 73. In any other year, Bland might have walked off with the Ballesteros award.
There’s another reason why Bland gets honourable mention in the European Tour Player of the Year Award: he actually played a full European schedule. He teed it up in 23 tournaments, all but two of them – that U.S. Open and the Open Championship – “regular” European Tour events.
Rahm? He played just nine European Tour events last season, only three of them “regular” tournaments against the majors and World Golf Championships. He had an outside chance of winning the Race to Dubai but passed on playing the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, claiming he was exhausted at the end of the year. So would you be if you’d played all those European tournaments. Still, Rahm can’t be blamed for being a part timer when the European Tour has set a ridiculously low bar to retain tour membership.
Here's an idea going forward: how about making players ineligible for the Player of the Year award if they don’t play in the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai? Ha, ha, ha. We can’t upset the PGA Tour-based superstars, can we?
So well done Jon Rahm, but take a bow Richard Bland. You deserve honourable mention, while many will no doubt see you as the actual 2021 European Tour player of the year.
#JustSaying: “Every kind of sportsman, sportswoman, they have that never-die or that never-quit attitude, no matter whether it’s golf or it’s tennis or it’s boxing, whatever it is. … You never know in this game, you just keep going.” Richard Bland
Photograph courtesy of the European Tour