Andalucia Preview: Cleeks look for more 'senior Bland inspiration' at Valderrama

Written by
Mark Lamport-Stokes, LIV Golf Correspondent
Jul 09 2024
- 4 MIN
Cleeks Andalucia preview STORY image

SOTOGRANDE, Spain – As Cleeks GC prepare for this week's LIV Golf Andalucia at Real Club Valderrama, they will be hoping that lightning can strike in the same way twice when it comes to the 'Richard Bland effect'.

At last month's LIV Golf Houston, the all-European combination won their first-ever LIV Golf team title - inspired by Bland's triumph just three weeks earlier in the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores on his debut in the over-50 ranks.

On July 1 at Newport Country Club, Bland clinched his second straight senior major with a playoff victory in the U.S. Senior Open and his team mates will once again look to draw inspiration from that success as they vie for team glory this week in Spain.

"What Richard did really helped our team spirit," Cleeks GC captain Martin Kaymer said about the impact in Houston of Bland's Senior PGA Championship breakthrough. "We were really in a good place, but a win -- it can make a big difference. Top 5s, top 10s, those are good results, but a win gets you to a whole 'nother level.

"The way Richard has been playing is inspiring ... the way he has played over the last five years and the way he's handling himself and trying to get to his ultimate best is very inspiring."

2023 DP World Tour Player of the Year Adrian Meronk, who signed off with a 4-under 68 at the Golf Club of Houston to finish second on the individual leaderboard, fully agreed with Kaymer.

"It was huge for Richard (winning the Senior PGA Championship) and we're so proud of him," said Meronk. "He really deserves it. He's been playing so much good golf, and he proved at Harbor Shores that he's the best senior out there. It's great having him on the team and getting some wisdom from him."

The Cleeks certainly have a lot of momentum going their way ahead of this week's LIV Golf Andalucia. As a team, they rank fifth in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation percentage, and that should give them a boost on the par-71, 7,010-yard Valderrama layout which places a premium on precise positioning.

Meronk (at 15th) is the highest Cleeks GC player in the season-long individual standings while he ranks ninth in the league for total birdies. The Polish professional, who joined the team before the start of this season, will aim to lead his team back to the podium just like he did at LIV Golf Houston.

Captain Kaymer will also have good reason to feel confident this week at Valderrama. He has been very successful at this venue in the past, finishing runner-up here in 2008 and 2020 and tying for sixth in 2016.

Although Bland sits 25th in LIV Golf's individual season standings, he has earned points in every event this year outside of Jeddah. His T9 finish in Nashville last month was his second LIV Golf top-10 of 2024 and he ranks fifth this season in GIR (74.28%) and 11th in driving accuracy (63.49%).

When Bland tees off in Friday's opening round at Real Club Valderrama, he will be making his first start since beating Japan's Hiroyuki Fujita in a sudden-death playoff for the U.S. Senior Open.

The 51-year-old Englishman had closed with a 4-under 66, and he then edged out Fujita on the fourth extra hole with a superb bunker shot that hit the flagstick and stopped just inches away to set up a tap-in par.

"Yeah, two inches to win at the U.S. Open ... I can handle those!" Bland said with a smile.

Bland is something of a late bloomer and broke through for his first DP World Tour victory in 2021 in his 478th career start, becoming the tour's oldest first-time winner at age 48. Later that year, he became the oldest player to lead the U.S. Open after two rounds before falling back into a tie for 50th.

"I'm a way better golfer than I was back then, but I think that's the caliber of players that I'm playing against on LIV," said Bland. "To play against Bryson (DeChambeau), who won just the other week at Pinehurst, to play against Jon Rahm, Cam Smith, D.J. (Dustin Johnson), Brooks (Koepka), they're the best players in the world. I don't care what the world ranking says.

"If I'm going to compete with those guys, I have to bring my game. I can't bring my 'C' game. It won't stack up against those. It just elevates my game, and I think it's done that unbelievably over the last three years. You're not always going to be playing your best golf, but I'm the best player I've ever been."

With that extra spring in his step and the remarkable momentum built by his back-to-back wins in senior majors, expect Bland and company to flourish this week at Real Club Valderrama.