The Open: Richard Bland savours 'very special' opening tee shot

Richard Bland said it was “very special” but also “very nerve-wracking” to hit the opening tee shot in the rescheduled 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

Richard Bland hits the opening tee shot off the first during the opening round of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s. Picture: Chris Trotman/Getty Images.
Richard Bland hits the opening tee shot off the first during the opening round of the 149th Open at Royal St George’s. Picture: Chris Trotman/Getty Images.

On a glorious but breezy morning on the Kent coast, the Englishman received a warm welcome as he stepped on to the first tee ahead of the 6.35am start.

Rising to the occasion, the British Masters champion hit a cracking drive, as did playing partners Andy Sullivan.

“Very special, very nerve-wracking,” said Bland afterwards, having signed for a level-par 70 as Sullivan and Armitage carded 67 and 69 respectively.

“I was all right when I got on the tee but when he (the man announcing the players) started, it kind of ramped it up a bit but I managed to get it down there somehow. It went straight and that was all I was worried about.”

The 48-year-old, who had set his alarm for 4am, was handed the honour on the back of landing his breakthrough success on the European Tour at the 478th attempt in the British Masters at The Belfry in May.

“Martin [Slumbers, the R&A chief executive] called me on Sunday,” said Bland. “I'd just got to Renaissance (where he was playing in the final round of the Scottish Open).

“It's something you don't expect. I was hoping I might get a good draw but that was something else. Very grateful to the R&A for considering me for doing it.”

In fact, before the group headed down the first fairway Bland made a point of heading over to the side of the tee to make that known publicly to Slumbers.

“Once I got away and I hit a nice wedge shot in, you're fine and settled down and it was playing golf as normal. A special moment.”

On a morning when American Brian Harman went out in 31, four-under, Bland described some of the flags as “tricky”.

He added: “It's a major so they are not going to stick everything in the middle of the green. There are some flags you have to be very careful of, if you get it just a little wrong pars going to be very tricky.

“A few holes on the back nine are playing tough, 11 and 12 are really tough but then you have a couple of the par-5s are playing a little easier today.”

Sullivan, a former Scottish Open Stroke Play champion, carded six birdies, including one to start and another to finish, as he set the clubhouse target along with fellow Englishman Danny Willett and South African Justin Harding.

“I got off to a nice start and holed a couple of big putts early doors on one and four,” said the Englishman. “It settles you into the round.

“It was nice to get off to that start to give me mentally a cushion around the turn and not have to chase after a few flags.

“I love links golf and it is a fantastic game to play. I wouldn't say my record is the best in The Open, but I do enjoy it and trying to be creative and draw it in against the wind.

“It is something that appeals to my personality trying to be creative.”

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