Colourful Englishman, Eddie Pepperell, tells things as he sees them and has gained as much attention for his thoughts as he has for his ability, writes JAMES CORRIGAN.
There was a day not so long ago when young golfers were accused of being a bunch of clones raised in privileged backgrounds. But then the likes of Rory McIlroy,
Jason Day and Dustin Johnson stormed on to the scene to crush those misapprehensions.
None of them enjoyed anything like wealthy upbringings and none could be listed in the ‘boring’ bracket. Here are multi-millionaire superstars who can provide hope and, yes, inspiration for wannabes, rich or poor.
Eddie Pepperell is not in their league of either fame, garlands or finance (yet) but there can be no doubt that when it comes to interesting personalities, he could be without peer. Indeed, the 27-year-old Englishman could well emerge as one of the most intriguing characters in all sports. He is golf’s ultimate cliche-crusher.
Pepperell’s father, Ron, worked as a toolmaker for 25 years until he gave it up to run a local football team’s clubhouse, before moving to a driving range. Ron introduced Eddie to the game when he was three and, by the time he was 16, he was contesting the British Boys final. But then his progression took an about-turn.
‘I went from being 16 and playing with and sometimes beating the likes of Tom Lewis and Matteo Manassero to really struggling,’ he said. ‘When I was 18, 19, they were winning on Tour and I was having trouble breaking 80.’
Pepperell was lost; golf was winning. He turned professional in 2011 but failed to earn a place on either the European or Challenge Tours, and he began 2012 playing on the mini-tours. His earnings were below five figures, he was staring insolvency in the face and his life plan was in tatters. But then a lifeline arrived in the form of an invite to a Challenge Tour event on the beautiful Brittany coastline. For Pepperell, there was one big problem with this idyllic scene.
‘I was actually in debt and couldn’t pay my hotel bill,’ he recalled. ‘There was this realisation that I had to win. It helps when there is simply no other option. It gives you clarity. Winning that week was so important because it meant I had Challenge Tour privileges for the season. If I’d blown out, what would have happened? I’d done all my sponsorship money and the pro game is so expensive. My parents would have had to help me out and they would have struggled to do that. I would have just had to find funds from somewhere. God knows where, though.’
Pepperell soon graduated to the European Tour, but still the progress was anything but seamless. At least he had his new hobby as a bookworm to fall back on. A few years before he had been on holiday with his girlfriend, when he picked up the autobiography of England rugby legend Lawrence Dallaglio. It is fair to say everything changed. There Pepperell was, almost 20, hailing from the learned university city of Oxford and he was at last reading his first book.
‘I loved it,’ Pepperell told me. ‘I hated English at school. Growing up, golf was everything to me. In my GCSEs, I got one B, five Cs, a D and an E. But then I started self-educating myself with all these books. There was Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. It changed my outlook. Before, I had felt like a candle. I’d be flickering on and off, the fire wasn’t there every day. But once I started reading books it opened my mind completely. I started to see the
world from different angles, as well as myself. Golf had always got on top of me before and, if you let it do that, it will kill you. Golf isn’t everything. I accept that now.’
Pepperell didn’t stop at reading.
A former coach advised him to write down his thoughts and emulate former world No 1 Luke Donald in keeping a notepad. It was after his breakthrough win that Pepperell went further. ‘I wanted to do something more serious, so I started a blog. It’s good for me to get down my thoughts and helps me understand the situation I’m in. It sounds a cliche but it does give me perspective.’
It offers his readers perspective too. Pepperell’s wonderful writing style gives a blessed window to the life of a young professional, from the loneliness of hotel rooms to the pressure of playing for your supper. Whatever he says, it is far from cliched as Pepperell has plainly done it
his own way.
‘Modern sportspeople are geared up to being professionals from such a young age that they tend not to have other experiences,’ he said. ‘And even when a sportsperson is interesting, they’re often not very good at portraying it.’
In the early days he offered up rare gems. Take this philosophical take on the unbearable lightness. ‘I think of myself as a load of helium balloons attached to a stone. There are parts of me drifting off in all sorts of crazy directions and if I was to lose that stone – which represents family, my girlfriend and friends – I would end up floating in space, with no direction and no idea where I was going. But if we all thought too much about how insignificant we are, none of us would ever get out of bed in the morning. So you’ve got to find that balance; you almost need to be like two people in order to become successful.’
As Pepperell worked his way through the Tour he became more outspoken, venturing into areas professional golfers had avoided like out of bounds.
Some of the other players predictably baulked at one blog in particular, which seemed to suggest they all earned too much money. Marcel Siem made caustic remarks to him on a putting green, but far from backing down, Pepperell went back to his laptop.
‘The average wage in the UK, after tax, is around £26 500. Last year I earned nearly 10 times that. People roughly my age who will leave university in the next five years will likely have debts of between £30 000 and £40 000. I just paid off my mortgage.
‘The comment Marcel made represents the sheer blindness to the inequality that exists today. We play for staggering amounts of money, let alone the amounts some players receive in sponsorship. Again, I don’t think Marcel is a bad person in saying what he did, he just simply reflects the attitudes many sportsmen and elite people carry; that money rules. The narrative that’s been laid in front of us in recent decades is that money does rule, and unfortunately to a large extent it does.
‘But to suggest somebody is in the wrong for suggesting we should maybe care for sharing some of the wealth, is indicative of the rampant individualistic approach too many wealthy people share.’
Pepperell plainly knows his own mind and accepts that at times it activates prematurely. In 2013, he caused controversy when tweeting an inappropriate joke about the Irish and potatoes. ‘That was said purely out of complete ignorance. The next time I’d had a few drinks and woke up the next morning and didn’t like what I had written, I came off Twitter,’ Pepperell said.
Thankfully, he relented and was soon back providing those delicious bon mots. Meanwhile, his career was still moving forward. At the 2015 Open Championship at St Andrews, he actually led in the third round and that season he won more than £600 000, having breached the £500 000 mark the year before.
Life was good. Or so he thought.
‘I ate out five times a week and never thought twice about the cost of petrol or business-class flights,’ he wrote. ‘Although I didn’t think I was being lazy or unthoughtful at the time, compared to the way I was from 2010-14, I probably was.’
Pepperell lost his card in 2016 and his blog made painful but enthralling reading. He admitted to crying in lonely hotel rooms and struggling to see a way forward. ‘Does all this make me weak or in need of help?’ he asked. ‘No. Turning sleepless nights into dreamy ones is what life and careers are about.’
Pepperell bounced back, earning some status for 2017 and then battling through the unequal struggle of winning enough to gain full playing privileges for 2018. The next step was obvious – finally to win on the Tour proper. He did so in February at Qatar and I urge everyone to read the resulting blog.
On the winning putt: ‘Concentrate you bastard. Like I did all day on short putts, I just tell myself I’m at home in my putting room. Eyes still.’
On the winning feeling: ‘If I could have thrown myself in the lake I would have, but I play with my wallet in my back pocket, and now isn’t the time to destroy my credit card.’
Pepperell is now a ‘made’ golfer. He is flirting with the world’s top 100 and it willbe interesting to see if further success will change him. He is, of course, maturing and he now expresses his beliefs not only on the internet but also in the Tour’s boardrooms.
He has been elected as a member of the players’ committee and it is in that setting where he will doubtless discuss the issues he finds important. Believe it, he will step on toes. Pepperell does not like appearance fees, is not certain that slow play is the scourge everyone is claiming it to be and he wants better working conditions for caddies. But although he will busier, he vows to carry on blogging. And Amen to that. Some of us need him.
‘This isn’t meant to sound arrogant, but I can see how some people would be more interested in reading about my struggles on the course and my introspective blog, than hearing Rory McIlroy talk about how he hits it so far,’ Pepperell wrote. ‘We, as a society, are searching to find new, more interesting stories. The monotony of even great golf, or great football, will not fill our desires to be inspired or remain interested. It has to be something more.’
2012 – Allianz Open – Challenge Tour (1st)
2013 – BMW PGA Championship (T6th)
2014 – KLM Open (4th), Wales Open (T4th), Made in Denmark (T4th), Czech Masters (T5th), Nordea Masters (T6th)
2015 – Irish Open (T2nd), Qatar Masters (4th), Scottish Open (T4th), KLM Open (T5th)
2016 – Irish Open (T8th)
2017 – Portugal Masters (T3rd), KLM Open (T3rd), US Open (T16th), Turkish Open (T6th), Alfred Dunhill Links (T7th), Italian Open (T10th)
2018 – Qatar Masters (1st)
– This article first appeared in the July issue of Compleat Golfer
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