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  • Alistair Tait

Here's to the golf grinders

Would Richard Bland have been considered a failure if he hadn’t won yesterday’s Betfred British Masters at The Belfry in his 478th start, and ended his European Tour career without a win beside his name?

Not in my book.

Bland joins other European Tour pros who seemed destined to go through their careers without a victory only to stumble on one when it probably seemed like an impossible dream. Malcolm MacKenzie, Carl Mason, Richard McEvoy, and others have taken the same trip as Bland and finally came up trumps.

You have to admire the perseverance, the tenacity of players like Bland et al who go through the heartache of continually coming up short yet refuse to give up and carry on beating their heads against rock hard fairways.

MacKenzie won the 2002 French Open in his 509th start, a win that was long overdue considered the Yorkshireman’s talent. He finished fifth in the 1992 Open Championship and recorded a career high of 25th on the 1990 European Tour money list.

Mason went 20 winless years on the circuit and then, like proverbial London buses, two victories turned up in his 21st season, the Turespapana Masters Open de Andalucía and the Bell’s Scottish Open in 1994. He defeated Jose Maria Olazabal to win the former, and then defeated an even better field at Gleneagles.

McEvoy was part of that superb Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team that won the 2001 match at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Georgia, one of only two wins on American soil for GB & I. He was always the odd man out of a cast that featured Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Nick Dougherty, Marc Warren, and Michael Hoey who had gone on to professional success. McEvoy made 12 trips to the European Tour Qualifying School before winning in his 285th start, the 2018 Porsche European Open.

Bland made eight trips to the Qualifying School. He’d banked €5,546,729 before his €339,278 first place cheque at The Belfry. He’d earned three second places finishes, two thirds and another 21 top-10 finishes. He’d counted 12 seasons when he kept his playing rights for the following the season, including 27th on the 2016 Race to Dubai.

That’s success for most in the in the dog-eat-dog world of professional golf.

Yet he swallowed his pride at the end of the 2018 season and, at the age of 46, dropped down to the European Challenge Tour. It wasn’t any easy thing to do considering his brother was going through a life-threatening illness. Many at that stage of their careers would have quietly departed stage left to hone their games in preparation for senior tour golf instead of competing against players half their age.

"Finally I can go off that list of most starts without a win,” Bland said. “A big incentive for me was that I wanted to get to 500 events. This will allow me to do that, which I’ll be hugely proud of. To play 500 events out here is a pretty good career.
"Losing my card (was a low point). Losing it a couple of years ago. There were a few things going on at home. My brother was ill, so my mind wasn’t on golf for the first four or five months of the year. This is one for him as well. It took a lot of guts to go back to the Challenge Tour at 46 years old. You’re probably old enough to be most of the guys’ father. I got my head down; I’m pretty good at that. When I put my mind to something I can just get my head down and go and do it. That’s what I did."

No wonder the Englishman was so emotional after surviving a playoff against 24-year-old Guido Migliozzi of Italy that he struggled to speak at times in his post round interview.

Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood, Tommy Fleetwood, and other perennial winners rightly command European Tour headlines. But for each one of those there’s a Bland, a MacKenzie, a Mason and a McEvoy with dreams of their own.

Here’s to the golf grinders. Their stories are every bit as noteworthy as those of golf’s superstars, and much more heart warming.

#JustSaying: “Deep down I wondered if I’d ever do it.” Carl Mason

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the European Tour

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