Eddie Pepperell is the antithesis of the modern tour pro in that he is candid, forthright and prone to an outburst of profanity. John Huggan teed him up and hit ‘record’.
Outspoken, opinionated and, well, just plain interesting, Eddie Pepperell is the antithesis of the modern pro. As John Huggan discovered.
In a world of sameness and conformity, Eddie Pepperell stands out. In so many ways. The hat he wears on the course is blank. He writes his own blog, one that provides a fascinating insight into both life on tour and the inner workings of an active and intelligent mind, on and off the course.
His professional career has seen ups and downs. The double-bogey Pepperell made on the final hole of the second round in the 2016 Portugal Masters (he shot 64-76) meant he missed the cut and, more importantly, lost his European Tour card. It was a dramatic fall from grace for the former Eisenhower Trophy player.
Last year, however, was very different. In 24 European Tour starts he recorded seven top 10s and a creditable T-16 at the US Open. Having begun the year ranked 309 in the world, he rose more than 150 places and finished inside the top 40 on the Race to Dubai.
So there was much to talk about when I sat down with Pepperell in the middle of February.
You’ve built yourself a bit of a reputation for being “interesting”. Is there any pressure to live up to that?
Probably. But the problem is that, over time, people will inevitably discover that I’m really not that interesting. As you say, it’s just an image. I guess it has come about because my interests are a bit different from those of most golfers. But the awful truth is hanging over me.
I disagree. The reason we are sitting here is because you are not the average tour pro spouting platitudes.
I dislike that as much as you. But the more I’ve played professionally, the less I fall into that trap. Which I guess is different. I’m not into the commercial side.
Why not? You’re a professional. The clue is in the title.
I just feel like nothing has changed since I was a kid. I’m still just playing golf. Only I’m on the European Tour. Occasionally I do well and occasionally I don’t. I see it as that black and white. I don’t see myself as having a responsibility to do anything or give anything back. Or to be a certain way. Or to be a role model. That is all a choice for me to make. And for anyone really.
But you are bright enough to know you do, at least, have an obligation to entertain. The sponsors put money into golf and that money comes from the public. So you have a responsibility to them?
Well, yeah. But then I wouldn’t be me if I was out there saying and doing things I don’t believe in.
I don’t want you to do that.
Exactly. Which is why I don’t. I’m aware of how the system works. But it doesn’t necessarily change the way I approach things. Or see things. It just doesn’t.
Okay, make your case.
I don’t have role models. But I have always been drawn to people who are truly themselves. In the world we live in today, that is less and less of a commodity. And that’s a shame in any industry. So I’m not actively trying to be different in that sense. I’m just trying to be myself. And that stands out in a world of conformity. Not many golfers do that, for whatever reason. I think there are
sportspeople who try to project an image to help their income. There are people who do that naturally and are comfortable doing it. I’m neither of those things though. I’m happy to do what I do, even if it will cost me. I wear a blank hat, for example. But I’m honestly fine with that.
You are comfortable in your own skin...
Yeah, I am. Over the last few years I have definitely grown more in that direction.
Who are you drawn to in life and sport?
I find it difficult to pick out one person. I like the odd story that comes along about an individual or a team.
Are you drawn to the eccentric?
Definitely. And I’m drawn to the shitty, nitty-gritty side of life. When I first started reading seriously – when I was about 19 – that was really when my career started to turn around. Much of what I read were autobiographies, particularly of rugby players. A lot of that was about how to deal with failure. I remember liking Lawrence Dallaglio’s book and hearing about the personal losses he has suffered. Becoming aware of that sort of thing made me comfortable with failure in my own life and career.
Since then, I have used my own struggles as a learning point to come back up. I naturally see the world that way. When people or teams become overly-successful I switch off.
So you have no desire to be Tiger?
It’s not about desires for myself. Do I think I can be Tiger? No. Which is not to say I can’t become a great golfer and win majors. I think I can do those things. But no, I don’t want to be Tiger.
I wouldn’t want his life.
Exactly. The problem is that I have a great life. If someone offered me the life I have now until I die, I’d take it now. But I’m aware you can’t think like that. You become complacent. Life isn’t straightforward and there are going to be ups-and-downs. So it’s about me concentrating on the right thing to ensure that my life goes well. There are almost two zones to life. Me as the professional sportsman and doing all the right things for my golf. Then there is my personal self, the guy who can sit back and enjoy what I’ve got and the life I can live. So I have to make sure that those two things stay in order.
Are you a goal-setter then?
I haven’t set goals for a long time.
Although maybe I should. My problem would be caring about them. It’s all very well setting a goal, but it has to mean something. I’m so apathetic towards so many things, I’m not sure it would mean anything. Let’s say I set a goal of top 20 in the world. Then tomorrow I go out and struggle. I’m such an ‘in the moment’ kind of person, I find it difficult to step back and think about the bigger picture. I get impatient. And the truth is I’d go home and wonder how much the top 20 actually means to me. It’s enough for me to say I want to be a world-class golfer. That might sound a bit generic, but all I want is for people to watch me play and go away thinking “that was impressive”.
Okay, what have been the events in your life that had the most impact on you?
There have been a few, big and small. One of those funnily enough was losing to Chris Paisley in the second or third round of the English Amateur at Woodall Spa. We had a great match. He beat me on the 21st after I was something like five-up through nine holes. I was playing great but he was something like eight-under par for the last 10 holes and holed two 40-footers on the last two greens. I was devastated. I started crying. I was 17 or 18. So yes, memories like that stay with me. Losing to Tom Lewis in the British Boys, things like that.
The losses stay with you.
Oh, yes. I did a thing earlier where Titleist were asking me to recall things like best round and best shot. I couldn’t think. But if they had asked for my worst or least enjoyable moments on the course I would have known right away. Which is an insight into my mind and soul I guess. I wish I could see the best things in my life and other things. But I just don’t.
What actually got you into golf in the first place?
I started really young. My dad got me and my brother, Joe, into it when I was four. But at that age you just muck about. When I was about 10 I got serious. I started to realise I was quite good at this game. I played some national events and won one when I was 12. So I stopped playing football, which I had always loved doing. What I loved about golf was being on my own. I wanted total responsibility and control of the outcome. And I wanted to get away from the parents and the other stuff around football. I didn’t enjoy that.
So you spent your adolescence with a pile of balls at the end of a field?
Exactly. Golf was my life. Which changed my group of friends at secondary school. I wasn’t the cool kid I had been until I got to a certain age. Suddenly I was the golfer and definitely not cool. But that was fine. I was so comfortable doing that. When I think about it now, that was a brave and strong thing to do at the age of 13, 14, 15. I wasn’t worried about what people said about me. I really believed in what I did, which shows a strength of character.
You defined yourself as “the golfer”?
Yes. That was all I ever wanted to do. And all I ever did. There was no second option for me. Which is another interesting question. Growing up, I heard a lot of people saying I should go to college and get a back-up plan. I think there is a famous Will Smith quote about that. He says something like, “why have a plan-B? It’s all about plan-A”.
That was my approach. And it still would be my approach. Especially in a sport like golf. Even if you fail you are going to learn so much, as long as you reflect on it all along the way. Just by paying attention you can learn stuff you can apply if and when you do have to go and do something else.
How did it impact on you socially? How aware were you of the wider world? I, for example, have no clue about modern popular music. Are you a bit like that?
I am. Popular culture frustrates me to be honest. I don’t get it. But that is maybe because I will be 27 soon. That stuff is for people younger than me. When I was that age, I didn’t go out. I didn’t drink. I didn’t have girlfriends. I didn’t do all the things teenagers normally do. Yet when I was 16 I met Jen in the gym. She has been the one constant in my life over the last 10 years.
‘I’M DRAWN TO THE SHITTY, NITTY-GRITTY SIDE OF LIFE. WHEN PEOPLE OR TEAMS ARE OVERLY-SUCCESSFUL I SWITCH OFF’
Tell me about her...
She’s very different from me. She’s a clever girl. She studied at school. She studied law and got a first in her degree. She’s really smart. She’s not actually doing law now. She’s training to be a health coach, yoga and all that sort of stuff. She loves that. She goes to a few events, too. I sometimes wonder what would have happened to me over the last few years if I had been single. I’ve never been a party boy, but have spent money in some dodgy places (laughs).
How much does your level of happiness depend on your level of play?
I think quite a lot. I think 2016 taught me that. I was very down back then, especially at events. I was fearing what was going to happen the next day on the course. I wasn’t my usual upbeat self (laughs). It definitely affected me. I was hoping it wouldn’t affect me as much as it did. But it did. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It made me realise how much I had to refocus and figure things out. I always believed I would do that. And it was a good experience in the sense that, if and when I go through another bad spell – we all do – I will cope better.
The one good thing I had going for me in 2016 was seeing myself as a market. I’ve always been interested in economics. So I looked at my career as a whole, from age five to 26. That made me realise I’ve had two recessions and the rest has been really good. I’ve had 22 or 23 years of gains. That’s good, really successful. But the problem is that, when the recession comes along, it is hard to see the bigger picture. It becomes a depression. But seeing things that way really helped. I never panicked. I certainly didn’t think going back to Q School would define my career. I didn’t think what happened two years ago in Portugal would either.
You have joined the European Tour’s Tournament Committee. What do you hope to achieve?
I want to learn more than achieve, at least at first. I want to be more informed. I’m not one to moan, but if I do, I want to know it’s justified. I don’t want to find out in hindsight there was more to the problem than I knew. I don’t want to feel bad about that.
What energises you? What would you do if you were king for a day?
I don’t know. I’ve already had one 90-minute phone call with (chairman) David Howell and (European Tour official) David Probyn. At the end of it my reaction was, “Jesus, this is tricky”. There’s a reason for everything and so many consequences for every decision. So there is going to be a lot to mull over in order to be fair to everyone. That’s one thing I’ve picked up already. Given the direction in which the tour is moving, there are going to be winners and losers. I’ve already seen that. There are about three tours going on at once. The tour is in a difficult spot economically and that drives a lot of the decisions. It’s almost impossible to compete with the PGA Tour financially. But the beauty of the PGA Tour is not that they play for loads of money. For me, it’s more important that they play for roughly the same amount of money every week. That makes the money list a true indication of who is doing well and who is not. In Europe we can’t say the same. The range in prize money is huge. After, say, the top-five players on the Race to Dubai, there is no correlation between how much anyone has earned. There are three different tours going on within the European Tour, depending on what level of player we are talking about. So we already know who the winners and losers are to an extent – and who they are going to be in the future.
So when it comes to making a decision that adversely affects one group, it is not fine to make 10 more decisions that affect that same group.
I’m not sure how long I will be on the committee, but I hope that every decision I am part of will not compound the pain for one section of the membership. We’ve got to be fair. The best will always survive. So we have to think of those a little further down the pecking order.
Isn’t that the same in every walk of life?
I guess it is. As I get older, I have become more aware of that. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just the direction we are heading in. The European Tour isn’t strong enough right now to really help out the guys further down the food chain. This tour needs the top players, so we need to keep them happy.
What about slow play? Are you a fan of things like shot-clocks?
I have misgivings about that. To me, how long guys take to hit a shot is not the issue. Take the event we played in Denmark this year. The first two rounds
each took five hours and 20 minutes. But it wouldn’t have mattered much if everyone had hit within 40 seconds. It still would have taken close to five hours to get round. It would have taken that long because people were losing balls. There are many long walks between greens and tees. And the course was set up with a few short par 4s and reachable par 5s. So it took ages.
The best that can happen with a 40-second shot clock is that we go from four-and-a-half hours to four hours. It’s still going to be four hours. Which is still slow. But even that won’t happen. Slow play is a product of the difficulty of the courses we play and the length of them.
How would you define your relationship with golf?
That’s a good question. It’s like a marriage really. It’s a massive part of my life. It always has been. If I had to stop playing tomorrow, what would I feel? There would probably be a bit of relief (laughs). But there would be a lot of regret. I’d miss the excitement and the adrenaline rush. Those are the things I enjoy. I like to get out there and show off. I am a bit of a show-off. I always have been. I want to play in front of people and show what I can do. I want to contend in golf tournaments. That’s where I get my buzz.
I’m definitely more artistic than scientific. And that is how I’m playing my golf this year. I’m matching my golf with my character. I got away from that for a while – too much emphasis on technique fried my brain. The hard thing for me is to just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve never been very good – when I’m doing something well – at just staying with what I’m doing.
I’ve had six months of really good golf. My stroke average has been much improved. And if I keep doing that for another 12 months I suspect I will be in the top 50. Can I do it? I think I can. But it’s about knuckling down and realising that is what a great career looks like.
So what have been the highlights and lowlights so far?
In my rookie year I was sixth in the BMW PGA at Wentworth. That was a great thing. I actually had a chance to win and only lost by two. That was big for me. And last year at the US Open was a lot of fun. Had that event come along last October, when I had already had two months of good golf, it would have been less of a thing. But in June it was huge. At that time I hadn’t had much to sing and dance about for at least a year. So to play as well as I did for four rounds of a US Open was a great experience. I’m proud of how I played there.
Then there was the rest of last year. It’s not that long ago. But I played a lot of good golf over a sustained period.
What is the biggest thing you have won?
That would have to be the ‘Wee Wonders’ (laughs). And there was a chipping competition. I haven’t won a tournament since the Challenge Tour six years ago. I did win some stuff as an amateur – the Welsh Amateur, the Portuguese Amateur. I wasn’t a world-beater back then. But I was a good amateur. I’m a way better golfer now. And I feel I have the potential to do some really good things this year. I’m still building. [See end of the interview, for his happy ending .... ].
Where are you in the world rankings?
That makes it almost impossible for you to make the Ryder Cup team.
Yeah. I know the stats suggest that. But if I were to win the right tournament my world would change. Let’s say I win at Wentworth, or the Irish or Scottish Open. That would surely go a long way to getting me in the team. I think I’m ninth or something right now. So I’m not that far away.
But when you start missing the WGCs and the majors it is very difficult.
Of course, in terms of the world points list. But I’ve got a chance off the European points list. If I play really well of course. It’s achievable. But I’m not saying it is a goal. If I won once, I will probably gain a bit more hunger to win again. It will become a macho thing, an ego thing. Which is not to say I’m not fussed about winning now. I will win, but only when I’m good enough. This year my plan is to play only the biggest events I can. I’m not
‘DON’T BE SO PRECIOUS IS MY MESSAGE. YES, I KNOW THAT IS GOING HINDER ME. I’LL LET PEOPLE DOWN AT SOME POINT’
going to play where I’m thinking the field is weak and I have a chance to win. I’m more likely to miss the cut than win thinking like that. I wouldn’t be ‘up’ for it and end up drinking too much wine on the Wednesday evening (laughs). I wouldn’t be like that in a big event. I’d be fully focused.
Is there an irony that you guys spend so much time and effort trying to qualify for a team event in such an individual sport?
I suppose there is. But from what I hear, the Ryder Cup is one of the best experiences a golfer can have. We all know that. Working on a team can provide an amazing buzz. But yes, it is ironic.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a golfer?
My iron play is a strength, especially the mid-to-short irons. When I’m playing well, that is my strength. Historically, my weakness has been off the tee. But I’m a lot better than I used to be.
Why on both counts?
Technically speaking, my swing is a bit steep when I’m going badly. And I tend to get a bit ‘ahead’ of the ball with the driver in my hands. When I live on the sweet spot, it doesn’t last very long. If I stop living on the sweet spot, it’s because I lean too much towards being good with the irons rather than the driver.
I’m good at keeping my ball flight down. Which makes me good in the wind. I also have a strong 3-wood in the bag, one I’ve utilised in the same way Henrik Stenson has. In certain ground conditions, I can hit that club as far as my driver. It doesn’t fly as far but it rolls more. So I have two options now to get the ball in play. That made a huge difference last year. When I wasn’t comfortable with the driver, I went with the 3-wood. I was in play so much more and out of play only rarely. That is a big thing for everyone at tour level. But for me it was even bigger. Statistically, my approach play was really hot at times, even if my putting was really terrible.
You are only as good as your worst shot.
Exactly. It’s all about your bad shots. I do hit a lot of good iron shots. I’m close often enough to be competitive. It’s all about, “how am I going to putt?” Or how frequently I hit that really bad tee shot. If I can tighten up on those two things I’m going to get better.
Hank Haney’s line about success in golf is: Don’t three-putt, have two chips on one hole and don’t incur penalty shots.
Well, yeah, that makes sense. And I know what he means. Last year in India, for example, I didn’t use my driver. I knew it could bring a double-bogey into play. So I used my 3-wood – although I did make an eight on one hole. But it was such a tough course. A bogey was fine, but a double was not. So just keep the ball in play. So Hank’s thing makes total sense, especially on a tough course.
The game is changing though. Look at the way the likes of Rory and Dustin Johnson play. I’m not short or long, but the distances they can hit the ball are just extraordinary. I can carry the ball about 285-290 off the tee and hit it about 305. So, my total yardage is okay. But Justin Rose carries the ball 305 and hits it 330. And Dustin hits it 325 through the air. That means he’s got 30 yards on me on every tee shot.
He should get an advantage, but is that distance advantage not becoming disproportionate?
I get that point of view, but I would also say that if you took 10 per cent off the ball and reduced the distances we all hit, I think he would have more of an advantage. Because we would all have to hit our drivers more often. And he is a great driver.
The ball is the easy fix. But it isn’t the only problem. Look at the size of the driver heads. They are so forgiving.
You say that, but I’ve hit some shockers (laughs). We all have. I saw a 40-page slideshow from a manufacturer. They went through everything. The ball. The agronomy. The player’s fitness. Swing speeds. And the number one thing that struck me was the changes in agronomy over the years. Fairways used to be cut
‘THE BEST WRITING AND MUSIC OFTEN COMES FROM PEOPLE’S PAIN. THERE IS AN OBVIOUS PATTERN TO THAT’
half-an-inch longer than they typically are now. If you equate that to how far balls run on the ground it is huge. I found that fascinating, especially when other things have not changed that much in terms of how far guys drive the ball now.
If you watch tapes of the Masters from the 1970s they are hammering putts on the greens. Now they just touch the ball. That isn’t even putting. It’s “dribbling”.
I love quick greens though.
So do I. I grew up on them. But it gets to a point where it is too quick.
I don’t like fast greens because I putt better on them. I like them because there is more fear involved. If you have a putt that is running away from you and you are under pressure, it is a better test.
But who do you think decided slow greens were bad?
Okay, but who decided the Hoover Building is ugly (laughs)? It is bloody ugly. But 40 years ago, people thought it was beautiful.
Don’t you think slower greens would test more of your technique? You would have to hit the ball solidly.
Don’t tell Colm Harrington that, Padraig’s brother. Every time I play him in the winter he takes money off me playing on shitty slow greens. He holes everything. So maybe his technique is better than mine (laughs).
Tell me about your dog, Gus. He is everywhere on your Twitter feed.
I am prepared to concede that I have posted too many shots of him. He’s such a great dog. He is a great character. And he is really good looking. I want another one actually. We’re nowhere near having kids yet, so it makes sense to have a dog. Before I die, I want to have as many dogs as possible.
Let’s finish with your writing. How did you start blogging and why?
It was when I started reading a lot of books. I thought I’d have a go at writing. I had all these thoughts in my head and I had to write them down somewhere. A blog seemed like a good idea. So I started a WordPress account.
You told me before that you write better when you are a little bit down or depressed.
Or drunk. But that is true. The best writing and music often comes from people’s pain. There is an obvious pattern to that. My last few blogs have been a bit tougher. I’ve really had to think about what I was going to write. Success is harder to relate to because not everyone achieves it. But we’ve all felt a bit down at times. I’m not sure how I came upon my writing style. It probably stems from the book I was reading back then. I instinctively copied, I think. Plus, reading is the best thing for writing, I’ve found. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve wanted to write. My style has changed over the years though, as I have read less. Now I try to tell more stories and go from there. The blog I did from the US Open last year was really about two or three little moments that occurred over the week. Funny things happened. And I enjoyed writing that stuff.
Were you good at English at school?
No, I was terrible. I just didn’t care. I didn’t apply myself. Then again, some people are really intelligent but useless in real life. There’s a big difference between intelligence and common sense.
I left school with one B, five Cs and an E in my GCSEs. But my school let me drop a couple of subjects because of my golf. The teachers were great. They got the message that all I wanted to be was a golfer.
One thing I do is delete lots tweets before I hit send. I can’t tweet everything that comes into my mind. That’s my first rule of thumb.
My big hope for the next few years is that people will stop being so politically correct all the time. A sense of humour is an increasingly rare thing. And that does my head in. Life is a balancing act and we have definitely gone too far one way. But there is definitely an appetite for rawer humour.
Last week I went to see the ‘Book of Mormon’ in London. The humour is shocking. But it’s hilarious. People were crying with laughter. I love that. A joke is a joke. We’re only here for 80 years out of a billion. It’s f*ck-all. So we should look at it that way. Don’t be so precious is my message. And yes, I know that is going to hinder me at times. But I have to be careful, tozo. I know that people do have feelings. Which is why I delete all those tweets. I’ll let people down at some point though. It’s inevitable.
Pepperell was part of the ’07 Jacques Leglise Trophy-winning team with Tommy Fleetwood and Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston.
Finishing runner-up to fellow Englishman Tom Lewis at ’09 Boys Amateur Championship.
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Pepperell’s iron-play excellence helped him clinch a first European Tour title earlier this year.
Pepperell rues a missed chance at the 2013 BMW PGA in his rookie year, where he finished two back of winner Matteo Manassero.
Pepperell enjoyed his best major finish in 2017 – T-16th at the US Open at Erin Hills.