KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

A second-nine surge lifts Bland to KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship title

May 26, 2024


Jeff Babineau

May 26, 2024

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Englishman Richard Bland received an invitation to play in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in Texas last spring, but was unable to make it. He had a conflict.

So last December, as Bland started piecing together his 2024 schedule, he noticed he just happened to have an open week in May, a week that coincided with the KitchenAid PGA Senior Championship in Benton Harbor, Michigan. On a whim, he sent an email to Bob Jeffrey, Director of Championships at PGA of America, asking if his original invite could be extended a year. The PGA of America obliged, and extended an invitation.

On Monday, he saw the course for the first time and fell in love with it.

“Probably the best email I’ve ever sent,” the 51-year-old Bland said Sunday afternoon, once a heavy afternoon shower that suspended the final round for 80 minutes had cleared the shores of nearby Lake Michigan. By then, Bland had finished par-par and was in possession of the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy given to the winner of the 84th KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. He was $630,000 richer for his effort. There even will be a new kitchen suite installed in his home in Burton-on-Trent, in England, courtesy of the championship sponsor.

“My wife will like that,” said Bland, who made more than 500 starts in Europe, winning for the first time at 48, and now plays on the LIV Golf tour. The victory arrived in Bland’s first start among the over-50 set, and gets him into next year's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

Bland made an eagle and eight birdies to shoot the week’s low round, an 8-under 63 that propelled him to 17-under 267 and a three-shot victory over Australia’s Richard Green. Green made two eagles in a closing 65, finishing at 14-under 270 to clip fellow Australian left-hander Greg Chalmers (68) by a shot for runner-up.

It was the third consecutive time in this event at Harbor Shores, a six-time KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship host, that a champion produced a final-round 63 at Harbor Shores to seize the title.

Tying for fourth was yet another Aussie, Scott Hend (66), who finished at 12-under 272 alongside PGA of America Golf Professional Jason Caron (Oyster Bay, N.Y.), who finished with 66 after stealing the show early in the day.

The PGA Head Golf Professional at Mill River Club, where his wife, Liz, also is a teaching PGA member, Caron had a dream start to Sunday, starting birdie-birdie and adding four more in his first 10 holes, climbing within a shot of the lead at one point. Caron, 51, who spent time on the PGA Tour before settling into a job he loves at Mill River, was attempting to become the first PGA of America Golf Professional since Tom Wargo (1993) to capture the Senior PGA Championship. He shot 66. Caron’s finish was the best for a PGA of America Golf Professional since Roy Vucinich tied for fourth in 2002 at Firestone Country Club.

“To have it pan out the way it did,” Caron said afterward, “is amazing, really.”

Bland and Chalmers left the field behind them on the back nine, separating themselves as they continued to make birdies and pull away. There was a pivotal stretch of three holes that would swing the event in Bland’s favor.

The first came at the par-4 14th. Chalmers rolled in a 30-foot putt for birdie, taking the lead at 16 under; Bland then faced 8 feet for par just to keep from a two-shot swing on the hole. He made the putt. At the par-5 15th, Bland’s solid ball-striking came to the forefront. After a nice drive at the gettable 515-yard par 5, Bland hit “the best 4-iron of my life” into the green from 215 yards, the ball finishing 6 feet from the flagstick. He made it, and leapfrogged Chalmers, who made par.

Bland followed with an approach from the rough into the par-4 16th his opponent, Chalmers would call “world-class.” Bland played first into the green, and kept the pressure on Chalmers with a beautiful approach in tight for a quality birdie look. That was enough.  Thinking he needed at least a good look at birdie to stick around, Chalmers took an aggressive line with a 7-iron to a left-side hole location and missed the green, short-siding himself.

From sticky rough on his third shot, Chalmers went right under the ball with a wedge. Whiff. He had to wait out the delay before eventually making a solid 5-footer just for bogey. But suddenly Bland was getting out of reach. He was up two, and would close with two stress-free pars. Chalmers finished what had been a great round through 15 holes with three bogeys, with Green passing him for second.

“It’s a great week in any first major, first real taste of being in the last group and seeing some things about what it takes, and what I need to work on and improve,” Chalmers said. “So I take a lot of positives about it.”

Green holed "a half 8-iron” from 139 yards for eagle at the par-4 12th, and added yet another eagle, his fifth of the week, at 15, where a well-struck 4-iron left him 12 feet. Green said he could not remember his last eagle on PGA Tour Champions, let alone making five in a week. He was pleased by how he performed on Sunday.

“It adds to your confidence and belief that you can hang in there under pressure,” said Green, who tied his best finish on PGA Tour Champions, “(that) you can take it all the way to the end. You know, that’s all you can really take out of it.”

Bland could not find the middle of the clubface in a third-round 74 on Saturday, but a day later, he was a completely different player.

“You don’t have to be an awful lot ‘off’ to struggle (at Harbor Shores), because if you miss it in the wrong spots it’s almost impossible to get up and down,” Bland said. “That’s kind of how it was with me yesterday. ... My swing felt no different to how it felt today, and I’m what, 11 shots better?”

Bland would dedicate his KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship victory to his older brother, Heath, who already had battled through a cancer scare once, only to be diagnosed with lung cancer two weeks ago. Bland said he and his brother expect to learn more about the cancer, and next steps, in a week.

“I’m just so pleased that I could do this for him,” Bland said. “Like I said, this doesn’t feel like it’s my tournament. It’s his.”