Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery – no booze and quitting the Middle East

Eddie Pepperell at the 2020 British Masters - Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery - PA/Mike Egerton

Eddie Pepperell at the 2020 British Masters – Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery – PA/Mike Egerton

It was 3am in Dubai in January when Eddie Pepperell experienced an epiphany regarding his golf. “I couldn’t sleep,” recalls the Englishman. “I was just lying there in bed, thinking about things. I wasn’t in a great place to be honest with you. We had just moved house, we had stuff going on, I wasn’t feeling great off the back of last year’s travel. I’d just missed the cut in Abu Dhabi the previous week…Anyway, this thought flashes up in my head: Other than Qatar, where I won in 2018, I’ve never actually played well in the desert.”

On a whim, Pepperell decided to boot up the laptop in the middle of the night and trawl through 10 years’ worth of results. “It was a strong dataset actually,” he says, smiling. “Just observing patterns, results, stroke averages, missed cut ratios, money earned, top 10s… What I discovered was that I’d earned 85 per cent of my career earnings on the European Tour in Europe. I think I’ve had 38 top 10s in my career and 33 of them have been in Europe. Eighty per cent of my money earned has come between the months of June and October.

“I just thought to myself: ‘If you were a business consultant and you went in to look at that business, one of the first things and most obvious things you’d say is ‘Why are you doing business in the Middle East? It doesn’t work for you. Focus on what you’re good at.’”

The result of burning all that midnight oil? Three months away from tournament golf. Pepperell honoured his commitments up to and including the Singapore Classic in February (he missed the cut there, too, his fourth in a row since the turn of the year). But since then he has been back in the UK, settling in to his new home near Thame, Oxfordshire with partner Jen and their two dogs, Gus and Pip.

Sitting at the kitchen table, overlooking a sloping garden and fields beyond (“The farmer has said we can hit balls into his field if we like, which is nice of him”) Pepperell looks and sounds in rude health.

He has got himself fit, given up alcohol, installed a golf studio with a simulator in an adjoining barn, and played plenty of practice rounds at Queenwood Golf Club in Surrey, which he joined 18 or so months ago. “I’m hitting it ok,” he says when asked whether all the hard work has paid off. “I guess we’ll find out. Like everything it’s cyclical. I know I have it in me to do it. I believe I could get on a hot run again and have a very good summer. Absolutely I do.”

The first test comes this week at the Italian Open, where Pepperell makes his return to DP World Tour action. The venue this year, the Marco Simone Golf club in Rome, happens to be the venue for this autumn’s Ryder Cup. Suffice to say, Pepperell does not expect to be getting a call from Europe captain Luke Donald, however hot his run this summer.

Pepperell is currently down at 246 in the Official Golf World Rankings and brutally honest about where he is trying to come back from, as anyone who follows his highly entertaining Twitter account will know.

For those who do not, the 32-year-old is 24-carat gold on Twitter; amusing, waspish, irreverent, never afraid to voice an opinion. He frequently gets himself into trouble. It was no surprise to see Pepperell’s spat a couple of weeks ago with LIV Tour defector Richard Bland. Nor was it a surprise to see his subsequent victory by TKO.

After Bland, a veteran of 22 years on the European Tour, sarcastically asked Pepperell for examples to illustrate his view that the established tours had a record of innovation, adding “but maybe [in] your 15 minutes on tour, you know different.”  Pepperell came back with a brutal putdown.

Pepperell has since said he is sorry for having triggered a “pile-on”. In fact, he claims to be a reluctant polemicist altogether. “I don’t particularly want to be seen as someone who is really opinionated,” he says. “Ultimately, I’ve just had a few strong opinions on a few topics.”

LIV would certainly be one. Pepperell admits his strong anti-LIV stance has put a strain on some friendships. “A few,” he says. “Laurie Canter, who was always my closest friend on Tour…that’s been difficult, I won’t lie. But we’re still friends. We had a bit of a spell last year where we didn’t talk much and it was difficult, and this was off the back of Covid as well where we disagreed on a lot of stuff. But I respect him. He is fully entitled to make his decisions and he’s a very strong-minded individual. And very smart. So it was interesting talking to him about LIV because, although it was the same things other people were saying, I know he’s a guy capable of independent thought, which I don’t think some of them are. So it made me question my thoughts at the time.”

‘It was like the witchcraft trials 400 years ago’

Pepperell’s strong views on Covid, and lockdown and vaccinations are also well-documented. He admits he “maybe went too far down certain rabbit holes at times”. But he believes he was right to challenge the prevailing view, and is clearly proud that he stuck to his guns in the face of criticism, even if it was a “difficult period” for him personally.

“It was the first time I’ve ever felt like an outsider,” he says. “Obviously as a straight white male, it’s very easy to just go through life… So to actually feel like an outsider all of a sudden, like a pariah, it was difficult. That was a challenging period in general and a lot of people might disagree, but I think it took a lot of courage to actually stick by what you think, why you think it, why you’ve decided not to do something.”

Pepperell points to the tennis player Novak Djokovic, whose decision to remain unvaccinated was on another level to his, creating global headlines. “I think Novak was very courageous. As I say, it’s not an easy thing to do. I guess I just felt very strongly that people should have been thinking more rationally and independently about what was happening. For a while it was like the witchcraft trials of 400 years ago. It just shows we haven’t developed. All it takes is an event to really frighten people. And as we saw with those WhatsApp leaks with Matt Hancock, that’s exactly what they tried to do. It’s so irresponsible.”

Eddie Pepperell with the British Masters trophy - Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery - Getty Images/Christopher LeeEddie Pepperell with the British Masters trophy - Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery - Getty Images/Christopher Lee

Eddie Pepperell with the British Masters trophy – Eddie Pepperell’s road to golfing recovery – Getty Images/Christopher Lee

Pepperell, understandably, would rather focus on his golf. Having spent the last three months eating more healthily, abstaining from alcohol and working hard on his game, he is looking forward to seeing whether he can get back to being the player who finished sixth at the Open at Carnoustie, who finished T3 at the Players, who won three tournaments before a back injury in late 2018 began a long slow unravelling of his game; before the pandemic hit, when he decided to get fit but ended up losing over 10 per cent of his body weight, completely altering the mechanics of his swing.

He is intrigued to see where he is, comforted by the fact that, win or lose, it will be down to him. He is not interested in sports psychologists. He prefers to take “100 per cent ownership” of his own game, rather than put his mental preparation in the hands of someone else.

But is that not what a sports psychologist does? Help an athlete to take ownership? Does he not wonder whether that might help? What if he gets to 40 and has not managed to regain the form he had earlier in his career? Will he wish then that he had been to see Steve Peters or Dave Alred?

Pepperell smiles. “I actually spoke to Steve once after reading his book,” he replies. “And when I was younger I spoke with Dave. This was just after I’d spent two winters running in the snow after missing one shot, doing all the right things, making all the right notes, being super-super-disciplined. I was pushing myself every day. This was back when I was an amateur. And he made me feel like it wasn’t nearly enough. And I just knew that wasn’t sustainable for my character.

“We’re all built differently. Clearly someone like Matt Fitzpatrick, who takes that analytical approach… his dad is an accountant. Is it any surprise? My dad worked at Rover for 25 years and then ran a football club.

“Ultimately, if I have a 25-year golf career, and I never reach my full potential, but in that process I’ve taken 100 per cent ownership through the ups and downs, then when I come out of my career, bearing in mind I’d still hope to have another 40 years to live, that person is going to come out with a whole heap of knowledge. It’s going to be valuable, interesting.

“The flipside is you could create a little robot and tell him ‘This is what you need to do’. Every single step of the way. Someone who is absolutely efficient. But robots aren’t interesting.”

Pepperell will never be a robot. Everyone who loves golf and entertaining golfers will hope to see him back to his best in short order.

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