If you are thumbing through the pages this issue trying to find the product test articles we can only apologize for leaving them out, but we have a very good excuse.
Our product tester Nicholas Poppleton was busy trying to play his way into the Open through the arduous qualifier route. After a string of missed cuts on the EuroPro Tour we thought ‘Pops’ would have plenty of time to review clubs, but a quick session with Pete Cowen and Nick Huby, at the range in Rotherham enabled the 22-year-old to find that missing piece.
He backed this up with two blistering rounds of 65 and 69 during the Final Open Qualifier at West Lancashire Golf Club, to earn a spot in the 149th Open at Royal St George’s and three shots clear of his nearest challenge Louis De Jager.
Catching up with ‘Pops’, was a little surreal, as we were last talking about why he was driving a delivery van for Asda and helping his friend fit windows at the weekend to help balance the books.
Poppleton plays a shot during a practice round at Royal St George’s Golf Club with PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson looking on
Poppleton gets some advice from big-hitting Bryson DeChambeau at the 149th Open Championship
Poppleton secured his spot in The Open after topping Final Qualifying
How does it feel to know you will be playing in The Open with the best professionals in the game?
In golf terms I had a bit of a “what’s happening here” type headache after qualifying for The Open. It’s almost surreal, it took me about 24-hours before I realised what had happened because playing 36 holes in a day is such a long day, so it took some time to sink in.
It feels like I’m in credit and I’ve been waiting and waiting for a bit of momentum and when it hits you, it’s something else. To think I’ll be playing with the best players in the world and I won’t have to think about chipping out sideways because there are no trees at Royal St Georges. That’s when it hit me. In qualifying I was chipping out on a par-5 and straddling a tree with both legs, with no backswing and no follow-through. I’ll be chopping out of really deep rough at St George’s, but I’d rather that than straddling a tree!
You wrote on social media that this was for your grandad. Explain why he meant so much to you.
It’s a bit sad in some respects because he’s no longer with us and he would have loved to see me tee it up. It has been our dream that I’d one day play The Open, and obviously anyone that is English will hold The Open in the highest regard because it’s the Major that’s closest to home, and it really does feel so close to you. It’s iconic really with all the coverage it has had over the years and my grandad and I have fond memories listening to commentators like Peter Alliss and watching the greats like Seve lift the Claret Jug. So, my grandad would always dream that his grandson would play The Open. A few years ago in 2015 or around that time, he would address his birthday cards to me as “Open player, 2015” rather than put my name on it, undoubtedly my parents will still have those. You look back and think he’s a psychic. I just wish he sent one saying “Open Champion 2021”!
How do you prepare for The Open now?
I’m going on holiday with my girlfriend for a week, so I’m switching things up a bit! But to be honest I’ve played golf for six weeks on the bounce, so it was always in my schedule to have this week off and we’d booked to go to Cornwall. We will have a little nosey about for a week and a wander, take the dog on the beach every day, just to switch off. I might take my 7-iron with me and hit a couple but I’m not worried because you’re not going to lose ‘it’ in a week and not going to ‘find’ it in a week.
I’m not concerned about missing a run of cuts on the Europro Tour, as if I hadn’t qualified for The Open I know my game is in a solid place right now and I would have just knuckled down and got the job done. I’m swinging the golf club great at the moment.
I had a little 20-minute session with Pete Cowen watching me the day before I went to Open Qualifying, and sometimes his presence helps you hit it a little better, never mind him teaching you anything. He had his usual pearls of wisdom, he walked off at the end and was just like: “oh yeah, that’s good,” – so you know it must be pretty good if he said it’s good. If he says you’ve moved well, even in one shot, you know things are in a good place.
How will you manage inside the bubble at The Open and will it take the shine off not being able to invite more friends and family?
I’m just grateful to have made it into the event. To have my caddie and my dad with me will be just brilliant all the same. I’ve kept one space free just in case Nick Huby can make it. His schedule is packed, and I totally understand if he can’t make it but Nick has been my coach and mentor since I was a junior. I can’t thank him and Pete enough for what they have done for me over the years.
Where you surprised to see Nick Poppleton qualify for The Open?
Nick Huby: We are so proud to see Pops have the opportunity to show the golfing world what he is made of. We are aware how good he is. He won the Brabazon Trophy in 2018 and beat Wilco Nienaber, so we know Pops has the game. He has shown signs of form this year having narrowly lost out in the first EuroPro Tour event of the season and it was only a matter of time before he put all the pieces in his game together. He’s been working hard during lockdown visualizing shots and tightening up his short game. So, when he topped the leaderboard at final qualifying at The West Lancashire Golf Club it did not come as a surprise.
I know Pops will enjoy the most of every minute at Royal St George’s and who knows what might happen. Pete coached Darren Clarke to victory round there in 2011 – wouldn’t it be something to see Nicholas Poppleton up on that leaderboard.
Good luck Pops from everyone at the Peter Cowen Academies.