Yorkshire’s Nick Poppleton won the Brabazon Trophy in dramatic style when he chipped in on the second play-off hole at Frilford Heath Golf Club, Oxfordshire.
The Wath golfer was chasing leader Wilco Nienaber from South Africa for most of the final round before a brave play on the 16th hole resulted in an eagle which saw him tie the Springbok on 16 under and force a play-off in the English men’s open stroke play championship.
The South African No 1 had blitzed round this morning in seven-under 65 to get to 13-under after 54 holes, two clear of Poppleton who works part-time at the Peter Cowen Academy in Rotherham.
“I’m coached by Nick Huby who manages the academy and I’m also very privileged to be able to see Pete when he is home, and he’s also let me sit in on some lessons. I started playing seriously aged 14 at Grange Park next to the academy but I was always at Pete’s hitting balls and I’m very grateful for the help they have given me.”
It was a second big win in no time at all after he landed the Willett Salver at Lindrick Golf Club.
Nienaber set off like a rocket in the afternoon. He was five-under after seven holes, 18 under par and, at this stage, five shots clear of Poppleton. But a bogey on the short 11th, where he missed the green, and a double bogey on 14 where he lost his drive in the gorse, pulled him back to 15-under.
Poppleton, 24, playing in the group ahead, was making steady progress and got to 14-under after 12 holes. He needed something more – and he took his chance on the par four 16th, driving the green and holing a 15-footer for an eagle two.
“I had played with Wilco a few weeks earlier in Ireland and was just trying to stay in touch because you never know what can happen.
“ But I knew I needed to make something happen on the 16th. You need something like that to get you across the line and that was the turning point,” he said.
At 16-under par he had overtaken his rival. But Nienaber wasn’t finished. He slotted an eight-footer for birdie on the last to force the play off.
The title was decided on the par three ninth. Oddly, both players missed the green both times they played it – but compensated with stunning chip shots With Nienaber lipping out after Poppleton had holed his.
This is Poppleton’s first international title and he said: “It means a lot, this is the pinnacle of stroke play for England Golf and a lot of fantastic players have won this.”
He added: “it’s nice to start the season off hot. I’ve had a couple of seasons when I came out really slowly so it’s good to get one early.” He was accompanied throughout the championship by caddie Alex Stubbs, who was also on the bag when he reached the semi-finals of last year’s English Amateur.
The final day of the championship was marked by low scoring. Andrew Wilson (Darlington) set a new course record of nine-under 63 in the third round, which propelled him into contention.
In the final round, Lindrick’s Bailey Gill shot 67 to finish on 13-under and climb into a tie for third place with Jack Cope, which drew praise from his friend Poppleton. “That was a great result for Bailey and for Yorkshire”, added Poppleton.
Former county champion Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall) finished in a tie for 20th spot on five under with Malton&Norton’s David Hague a shot further back. England international Hague was in contention early on after a first round 68 despite a driver crisis.
His club broke in practice , but his grandfather had come to watch and had his clubs in the car. Hague borrowed his driver – an identical model – and used it to set up a bogey-free round.
Poppleton , from the England Golf men’s A squad was the joint first round leader after a weather hampered 66 and had completed only one hole, the par five 10th, which he birdied after getting up and down from a bunker.
On the next, a par three, he missed the green and was contemplating a tricky 20ft chip into an upslope when the hooter sounded.
“I slept all night thinking about the tricky short sided chip shot which could have been a dream or a nightmare – and then chipped it straight in!” he said. “I thought ‘that’s the way to go!’”
It proved to be a prophetic comment for Poppleton who is hoping his win will open a few doors before the heads to tour school at the end of the year.
“I will be playing in my first European Championship in Holland in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to that. As for the future I would like to turn professional, but the financial implications have to be considered.
“But continuing to play good golf will solve everything. The world is your oyster if you can do that.”