Nick goes for gold
Wath’s Nick Poppleton will tee it up in 2019 as a professional golfer, and like many Yorkshiremen before him will start out on the PGA EuroPro Tour.
The 2018 Brabazon Trophy winner would have been in line for a warm weather trip to either Australia or South Africa this month representing England Golf had he stayed in the amateur ranks. Instead he will be picking up balls at Pete Cowen’s Academy in Rotherham before heading to work at his local pub.
He is coached by academy manager Nick Huby and is there at first light hand-picking range balls before belting them back and heading to work in order to earn enough money to enter the EuroPro qualifying school in April.
“At this time of year, we have to hand pick the balls as it's too wet to get machinery on the outfield. The quicker we pick them up the faster I can hit them back out there before heading off to work."
But that chore has its privileges too. “Pete travels a lot to the various events to work with his players, so I work primarily with Nick but if Pete is around, he will have a look at me and I’m incredibly lucky to have access to him like that.”
Poppleton first had a taste of professional golf when he was one of four players from the England Golf squad who received invitations to the Bridgestone Challenge at Luton Hoo last September. His European Challenge Tour debut only lasted two rounds when he missed the cut after shooting rounds of 73 and 70 but Poppleton saw enough there to remain confident he can make an impact, pointing out that it can be much harder to shoot low rounds in the higher echelons of amateur golf than on some of the developmental tours.
“I felt very privileged to get an invitation to play in the Bridgestone Challenge, but I didn’t see a massive difference between the players competing on the Challenge Tour and the top amateurs. The pros were probably a bit tougher mentally and more used to winning.
“But the courses and they way they are set up is the main difference. I went to Finland to represent GB&I and it was like playing a US Tour golf course and set up for scoring. You get back to the UK and really hard courses like Royal Co Down in a strong wind and of course it's harder to shoot low scores because faced with a shot of 170 yards into a gale you have a 3 iron in your hand rather than a 7 iron.
“You can play great and sign for a 73. So, playing at the top of amateur golf on some of the toughest links courses in the world is not always conducive to shooting low scores.”
Before heading off to European Tour school last winter, where he made it through to stage two, he had approaches from management companies including White Rose Sports which was set up by Liverpool soccer player and keen golfer James Milner.
“I didn’t feel out of my depth despite my game not being at its best, and I needed to make that next step in my career. If I had managed to get a card, then White Rose could have helped me but as I’m going to be starting out on the EuroPro I wouldn’t benefit from the services they can offer and if I play well I can pretty much look after myself at this stage.”
At the age of 24 Poppleton is no teenage prodigy. “There are a lot of good young amateurs turning pro so there are probably small pickings for me, but they came to see me and are really nice people.”
He’s relishing the cut and thrust of professional golf in its most basic form where you must finish in the top 5 to make a profit for the week.
“The EuroPro tour has proven that it breeds winners (Yorkshire’s Chris Hanson and Marcus Armitage both made it on to the European Tour after starting out here) and it gets players into the habit of winning and that’s they how get better, how they get the best out of their game, and how they progress to the next level.
“I’m ready to compete and play for money and see how good the competition is. I will also look to play on the Algarve Tour in the next couple of months as preparation for the qualifying school but that will be down to finances.”
Anyone interested in sponsoring Nick should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org