*This article has been updated. When it was originally posted in October, Bland had competed in 425 European Tour events.
Richard Bland is still waiting for his first win after 434 starts on the European Tour... but who's counting?
Patience is a virtue – nowhere more so than in the crazy world of professional world. So it's just as well that 45-year-old Richard Bland possesses an abundance of that essential quality. Bland played his first European Tour event 20 years ago, and has now totalled an impressive 434 tournaments. But despite several near misses, he is still waiting for that elusive first victory.
It's been a long and often rocky road and even though he's in the twilight of his rollercoaster career, the Englishman still remains hopeful of breaking his duck. No way he's giving up. He wants to go down in the European Tour record books for all the right reasons, though he's acutely aware he currently sits in third place in the list of pros who have played the most events without a victory.
He knows, too, that Malcolm Mackenzie didn't celebrate success until his 509th start. Hampshire boy Bland is optimistic he can beat that, especially after enjoying the best and most consistent season of his career last year, when he managed seven top-10 finishes, finished 28th in the Order of Merit and amassed over one million euros in prize money for the first time. Like a good wine, he has matured with age and surely that first win is just around the corner?
"I certainly hope it will happen and I believe it will," he told us. "Maybe it's one of those scenarios where you eventually get a win and another one follows soon afterwards, a bit like London buses! I've taken a few blows on the chin that it hasn't materialised, but you just try and learn from it so next time you don't repeat the same mistakes.
"I was unfortunate a couple of times guys shot 63 and 64 on the last day and you can't do anything about that; just say well done and move on. Sure, it's driving me on and if by the time I hang up my clubs I haven't registered a win, I'll be bitterly disappointed.
But I feel I've improved through my career and I always felt I'd be a bit of a late developer, so if I can keep myself t and healthy, I think I've got another five years in me. Besides that first win, it would be nice to reach the 500 events milestone. But a win would mean everything."
Unfortunately, Bland was dogged by injury last season having issues with his pelvis and lower spine which have prompted regular visits to a Harley Street specialist. It caused him a lot of pain – he was barely able to walk at times – but when we interviewed him in his apartment in Surrey he was on the mend and confident.
He added: "If I can keep putting myself in contention more and then hopefully come Sunday, may be the door will finally open." If he fails, it won't be through lack of effort.
"My commitment and desire is even stronger just because of my age and I know time is running out. So my mindset is to absolutely make the most of it. I'm not really an extravagant person, I don't want for much – I'm not into ash cars or anything – but you know what, you can really set yourself up to make your retired life very comfortable, so I'm even more prepared to put the work in and play as hard as I can and see where it takes me."
Coached by Sky TV's Tim Barter for 15 years, Bland has never been afraid of hard work and admits that "golf is in my blood".
He vividly recalls the early days when he turned pro in 1996 and worked in the shop at local club Dibden GC before venturing onto the EuroPro and Challenge Tours before finally getting his card in 2002. Despite his many trials and tribulations, he concedes he's one of the lucky ones.
"I never get tired of it," he emphasises. "Of course there are times when you need a rest and sometimes when you're not playing well, you think it's tough. But any keen golfer would gladly swap their job to do what you're doing in a heartbeat, and sometimes you forget that...
"One thing I always try and do is keep a firm grip on reality. I'm not the most talented guy out there by a long shot, but right from an early age my parents instilled in me 'if you want anything in life you've got to work hard for it' and I was out there hitting balls until it got dark! I never shied away from having to hit balls. I still love hitting golf balls, and that's all I know. That's the only way I know how to improve... if you're not playing very well, that's how you get out of it. You're not going to get better sitting on the sofa.
"At the end of the day the buck stops with me. But even if I work hard, it doesn't mean to say I've a God- given right to play well – you still have to go out there and do it. If I'm standing on the first tee of a tournament well prepared, I can at least say I gave myself the best possible opportunity."
Though he's mixing it with Europe's golfing elite right now, Bland is no stranger to scrapping for survival having twice lost his Tour card – something he is desperate to avoid again.
"It's tough, especially now with the standard getting higher every year. Your career is on the line, you know you have to go back to Tour School and you know the starts you're going to get the following year are limited. So to earn money you have to play so much better in those events. For a golfer, it doesn't get much lower than that. Tour School is hell on earth for a player. You've got six rounds and you're playing for your livelihood. It makes a grown man cry.
"You never want to go through that, especially at my age – it could give you a heart attack and they might have to get the defibrillator out to get my heart pumping again!" Bland has seen many changes on Tour down the years, but has no doubt whatsoever what it is the most significant.
"It's the standard of the players – it's frighteningly high. I missed the cut at the French Open this year and it looked for a while that the cut was going to be around level par, which is just so good because that's such a tough golf course and we didn't play it in easy, benign conditions either.
"The guys coming out on Tour now are bred differently to how I was back in the mid-90s. They're being told to be in the gym at 14-15-years-old. The game has changed – you need to hit it as far as you possibly can and it's nothing today if you can carry it 300 yards."
So what advice would a veteran like Bland give the youngsters? "Get a good coach, somebody you understand and who understands you; it doesn't have to be the best coach in the world as long as you agree how the golf swing works and how you want to swing the club.
You've got to work hard; it doesn't matter whether you're the most talented guy in the world, or not, you've still got to work your butt off to succeed. Also, just try and keep yourself t and healthy and remember you don't need to be Mr Universe to play golf well.
"Remember, too, it's not always the longest hitters who win golf tournaments. Work your tail off from 100 yards in because that's where tournaments are won and lost. If you can turn three shots into two on a regular basis you'll earn an obscene amount of money."
The smile is back on his face as he recalls his impressive showing in this summer's Open at Birkdale, only his second Open appearance following his debut in 1998, also at Birkdale, when he was working in the shop at his beloved Stoneham GC. This time he played well all week and finished 20th, recalling:
"I had a putt on the fifth to take the lead outright and I never wanted to hole a putt more in all my life. Even if it was only after a handful of holes on the Friday, I would have led The Open and it's just something you'd always remember. Not many guys can say they've led The Open."
"I've got no regrets about my career. Everything I've learnt over the years, good or bad, I've tried to learn from and put it to use next time and that's shaped me into the person I am today."
How Richard Bland's Tour record compares
Bland is third in the list of players who have played the most events without a ET victory, trailing;
➤Ross Drummond (490, best finish 2nd)
➤David Drysdale (451, best finish 2nd).
Three players played more events than Bland before eventually securing their first victory: Malcolm Mackenzie (509, won 2002 Novotel Perrier Open de France); Roger Chapman (472, won 2000 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 500 years Open); Carl Mason (449, won 1994 Turespana Masters Open de Andalucia).
Richard Bland: Best European Tour Finishes
T2: BMW International Open, 2017
T2: Irish Open, 2002
T3: Volvo China Open, 2016
T3: Avantha Masters, 2010
T4: British Masters, 2016
T4: Portugal Masters, 2014
T4: Austrian Open, 2009
T4: Saint-Omer Open, 2008