LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Richard Bland is an aptronym but maybe not in the way you think. The 48-year-old journeyman's journeyman is co-leading the 121st U.S. Open with Russell Henley and looking to one-up Phil Mickelson's victory at the PGA Championship last month as the best 2021 story at a major by somebody who started playing golf professionally in the 1990s.
Bland is a good talker and a good sport, but his career has been as, well yeah, bland as they come. He's won twice over 600 events, never on the PGA Tour. He played 477 (!) European Tour events before finally winning for the first time earlier this season because nobody beats Richard Bland 478 times in a row. This time two years ago, he lost his card at the age of 46 and went down to the European minor leagues, playing events in places like Slovakia and Finland. Two years later, he leads the 2021 U.S. Open after 36 holes.
"Golf is all I know," he said of the lost card. "When times got tough and I lost my 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. I've always been someone that can get my head down and work hard, and I always knew I had the game to compete on the European Tour at the highest level. I've always known that."
Now he's doing it at an even higher level than that. Bland is the oldest man to lead a U.S. Open at the halfway point since World War II, and he's doing it over the biggest names in sport. Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas are all high on the leaderboard, but Bland is out in front of them all.
His emotional victory at the Betfred British Masters helped get him into this event, his fourth major in as many decades and just the second time he's ever played the weekend (he also did so at the 2017 Open Championship, which Jordan Spieth went on to win).
"As any golf career, you're going to have peaks and troughs," said Bland. "Of course you are. But I just think 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. The old saying is you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight. I've always had that kind of attitude that you just keep going. You never know in this game, you just keep going."
It's a good attitude for winning a U.S. Open, too. Bland will certainly be battered this weekend by Torrey Pines and the gathering cadre of superstars surrounding him. It's unlikely he will withstand it. Of course, the same was said about Phil Mickelson on a Friday night this time three weeks ago.
Bland is not Mickelson, obviously, but hope is a crazy thing. Is the gap between grinding in Slovakia in June 2019 and leading the U.S. Open in June 2021 wider than the gap between leading the U.S. Open on Friday night and leading it on Sunday night? Perhaps.
Regardless, Bland is the story going into the weekend. A journeyman's journeyman playing in his fourth major across 25 years looking down at Hall of Famers and legends. His answer when Golf Channel's Damon Hack asked him how he would keep from thinking about becoming the U.S. Open champion on Friday night or Saturday morning was fabulous because it -- just like the rest of his career -- was incredibly relatable. In a world where athletes try to lean away from thinking about their dreams too much, Bland isn't too scared to emotionally invest in the near future.
"Yeah of course [I'll think about it]," he said. "It's going to be pretty tough not to do that."
Let's take a look at the other major storylines entering Moving Day on Saturday.
Louis Oosthuizen (-4) needs a second: The best way I have seen Oosthuizen's career described is that he's full of front-door top 10s. In other words, he does not finish high in every major, but when he's in it, he's in it. That's true again this week as he started 67-71 and is the highest-ranked player in the final two pairings on Saturday. This is not a golf course that strokes me as a Louis Oosthuizen golf course, but the game travels well pretty much anywhere on the planet. If somebody "deserves" another major win, Oosthuizen is that guy.
Matthew Wolff (-4)'s wild year may culminate in a win: This time a year ago, Wolff had not even played a major championship. Now he's contended in three of the five he's played with this being the most improbable of them all. After taking a few months off following some truly terrible golf to get his mind right and regain the perspective that humans are not only the sums of their golf scores, Wolff is crushing again. He's made 12 birdies so far this week and has reminded us through the first 36 holes that he has off-the-charts talent.
Jon Rahm (-3) may be inevitable: You could make the case that he's the greatest player of all time without a major championship. I have made that case, in fact. Not most accomplished or best resume but flat-out the best one. His 70 on Friday was mega-impressive because he didn't have even close to his best stuff. The pre-tournament favorite at 10-1 remains the favorite after the first two rounds, and the idea many have proposed that this was his major to lose throughout the week is beginning to look like it was true all along.
The lions: Back at one of the Masters that Charley Hoffman led (which, to be fair, could have been a lot of different Masters), I sent a tweet about how he felt like a gazelle being chased by a pack of lions (stars and superstars) on the weekend. That's what it feels a bit like with Bland and Henley. If they're the gazelles, then Bryson DeChambeau (E), Brooks Koepka (E), Justin Thomas (E), Collin Morikawa (E) and Rory McIlroy (+1) are the lions. Who emerges from the pack on Saturday? Who legitimately plays for the trophy on Sunday?
The weekend at Torrey Pines is set. Let's have ourselves a show.