Hitting the first tee shot in the Open Championship lived up to its billing as Richard Bland enjoyed the nerve-jangling experience at Royal St George’s.
Bland was given the honour of getting the delayed 149th Open under way at 6.35am and had been warned what to expect by 2011 champion Darren Clarke, who fulfilled the same role at Royal Portrush two years ago.
“I played with Darren the last couple of days and he said ‘Trust me, you’ll be feeling it on the first tee’,” said Bland, who won his first European Tour event at the 478th attempt in the British Masters in May.
“Darren’s pretty much done everything there is in golf to be done and he had hit two iron off that tee every day in practice at Portrush, but he just pulled the head off the driver and said I wanted the biggest club (head) I can hit.
“He was feeling it as well. If he’s feeling it I’m definitely going to.
“It was very special, very nerve-wracking. I was all right when I got on the tee but when he calls your name and yours is the first shot the nerves cranked up a little bit.
“Once you got away and I hit a nice wedge shot you’re fine and settle down and it was playing golf as normal. I was hoping I might get a good draw but that was something else. I’m very grateful to the R&A for considering me for doing it.”
Bland admitted he wasn’t too pleased when his alarm went off at 4am, but three birdies and three bogeys resulted in a solid level-par 70.
“There are some tricky flags out there, it’s a major so they are not going to stick everything in the middle of the green,” added Bland, who at 48 became the oldest halfway leader in US Open history at Torrey Pines last month before finishing 50th.
“There are some flags you have to be very careful of. If you get it just a little wrong par is going to be very tricky.
“A few holes on the back nine are playing tough but then you have a couple of the par fives playing a little easier today. Seven was a little more off the left so even I could almost get up today and I knocked it on (in two) on 14 as well.
“I hit a good tee shot and it was a perfect three wood with 260 (yards) to the flag.
“I know you’ve got the out of bounds right and if you miss left it’s not the best leave, but I was hitting it good off the tee so it was a matter of just standing up and trusting it.”