Pete Cowen: Final roll of the 2021 Major dice

It was another good performance by Nick Poppleton as he qualified for The Open, winning the two-day Final Qualifier at West Lancashire last month. He’s always been a good player, who shoots very, very low in the tournaments he plays in, and he did it once again with a 10-under-par score at West Lancs to win it by three against so many players. It showed that he’s just that little bit better than the rest.

Poppleton has won a few EuroPro tour events, came close earlier this year after losing out in a play-off, and has won some Pro-Ams too. He’s as good as a lot of players on the European Tour who are ranked around 75-120 on the money list. He needs to play more and compete against better players to realise where he is with his game and what he needs to improve at. That’s why I’ve said to the European Tour that they’ve got to start doing a Monday qualifying tournament for their events, because it gives these good kids a chance to play at a higher level. It’s a money maker for them, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

That’s why all these smaller satellite tours have sprung up. The Hearns moved into golf and run the EuroPro Tour, but they’ve found it wasn’t as easy to make money as it is in boxing, darts and snooker – as you need fewer cameras following the action plus there are sometimes 156 golfers to take care of instead of two boxers!

I’ve not seen too many of my players since the U.S. Open but they’re all fairly happy with how they are playing. Brooks was happy – he had a chance to win and Rory had a chance to win. Rory is still a work in progress but he says he’s a lot more comfortable on the course than he has been for a while, so we’ll see. Rory is playing the Scottish Open as he needs to play and be competitive to see where he’s at by the time The Open comes along. It’s no use just having me turn up to see where his game is, he needs to know before hand.

Jack Nicklaus once said that Royal St Georges was the worst course on the Open rota and Tom Watson also remarked that the further south you go in England the worse the courses get – I think that tells you everything about this year’s Open venue. It’s just in the middle of nowhere.  Darren Clarke won there in 2011, so it’s obviously produced a winner for us, so I’m quite happy with that, but it would be the one course that I’d knock off the rota. The key to Clarke’s win round there was his ball flight control that week. On the Tuesday, once he stopped moaning, he eventually got control of his ball flight and he putted reasonably well – and more importantly his attitude was the best it’s ever been. So when you add all those together and you’re a good player then you’ve got a chance.

Picking a winner

Apart from my usual suspects, I think somebody like Patrick Reed has got a good chance of winning under the radar – he’s not an outsider as such but he’s not one of the big favourites. He also likes playing in Europe and is familiar with the European Tour bubble setup. Though I think someone is going to fall foul of that at The Open and get disqualified, probably by having more than four people in their bubble. There are players there that might have more than four, so we’ll see what happens there.

The four in the bubble is limited to the player, the caddie and then team members like a physio and a coach. I’m not allowed to go within two metres of my players – I can only coach them from that distance and stay that far away from them at all times. I’ve got to have a single room as I teach more than one player.

On the PGA Tour it’s completely different and in some states there’s no longer a legal requirement to even wear a mask any more. There’s a bubble ‘of sorts’ in the USA – and that’s that you’ve got to be tested regularly, but you can stay in any hotel you want. There’s more freedom in America if you’ve had both doses of the vaccine, and as I’m double-vaccinated I didn’t have to be tested at the U.S. Open. But this is the way it is and you’ve got to deal with it – or you just stop going to tournaments. I think the players will find it difficult at The Open because all the things they were allowed in the States, things like personal chefs on site in their rental houses, most of that is off-limits as they’re restricted to a bubble of four.

If there is a record in golf for the most covid tests I must be on that leaderboard. I’ve now had more than 100 and when you consider they are £160 it’s a serious expense. But if that’s what I need to do in order to get on a range with my players, so be it!