Wath’s Nick Poppleton looking to impress on Open debut at St George’s

Seven Yorkshire golfers will tee off in the first Open Championship for two years at Royal St George’s on Thursday.

Nick Poppleton: Makes his Open Championship debut at Royal St George’s this week. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Nick Poppleton: Makes his Open Championship debut at Royal St George’s this week. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

It is a mix of players typical of an Open field, from major champions like Danny Willett and European Tour winners such as Matt Fitzpatrick and Marcus Armitage, to four men in their twenties all hoping that two days – potentially four – on the Kent coast can propel them towards their long-term goals.

Rotherham’s Jonathan Thomson had a year on the European Tour three seasons ago and is trying to make his way back there via a good showing this week.

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He was one of 12 men to book a place in the field at final qualifying two weeks, a gruelling 36 holes in one day that also saw three more Yorkshiremen hold their nerve and progress.

Nick Poppleton at 2020protour final at Huddersfield Golf Club. 5 October 2020. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

And all three know each other well from their amateur days representing Yorkshire and England; Ben Hutchinson (Howley Hall), Sam Bairstow (Hallowes) and Nick Poppleton (Wath).

Bairstow remains an amateur while Hutchinson and Poppleton both made the step up to the paid ranks in recent years.

For Poppleton, 28, winning the prestigious Brabazon Trophy was the catalyst.

“I had a good year 2018, won the Brabazon, represented my country, played for GB&I in the St Andrews Trophy,” Poppleton tells The Yorkshire Post.

Nick Poppleton plays out of Wath Golf Club in Rotherham (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“I was one of the oldest on the squad at 25 and I remember sitting down with one of the younger players who was only 16, thinking I have boxer shorts older than this kid, it’s time I got a move on.

“I knew then it was time to try and make a living out of golf. You can float around in amateur golf; there’s not the depth and the courses aren’t set up to push you to shoot lower scores. It can be tough to evaluate how you’re playing when you’re playing brutal golf courses all the time.”

So Poppleton took the plunge, turned pro and joined the EuroPro Tour, the third tier of golf on this continent.

He also played regularly on the 2020protour last year, registering a couple of wins and finishing second on the order of merit.

Poppleton secured an Open debut at West Lancashire, obliterating the field by three shots.

Traditionally an excruciating ordeal for a field that consists of former Tour players to jobbing professionals, Poppleton played so well over the first 33 holes that he could relax coming in.

“I’d been trying to tear the golf course up,” said Poppleton, who opened with a seven-under-par round of 65.

“I looked at the leaderboard and I had a six-shot lead and just thought you’re being an idiot, just hit sensible golf shots.

“I could shovel it round in two over and still get in; it was nice to have that breathing room.

“There was a guy who broke down when he qualified because he’d had to sink some monster putts, so I don’t think the enormity of it really sunk in for me for quite a while. I don’t fully expect it to until I’m waist high in the rough on Thursday.”

That famous, wispy Open rough is something Poppleton has never experienced before, not just as a player, but even as a fan.

While for some golfers of his standing, attending the Open is an annual pilgrimage, the Rotherham professional is experiencing it for the first time.

“I’m more of a doer than a watcher,” says Poppleton, who comes from a sporting family and played as much volleyball in his youth as he did golf, until the latter took over.

“We don’t sit at home and watch things, we like to go out and do things. I’m the same with sport, I wanted to play sports rather than watch it. Never been one to spectate.”

Before moving to Wath, Poppleton played his junior golf at the Grange in Rotherham just past Pete Cowen’s Golf Academy.

The association remains as strong as ever. Poppleton’s regular coach is Nick Huby and this week at St George’s he will tap into the knowledge of Cowen himself.

“Pete is going to be coming down as my coach for the week. I see Nick Huby most of the time, but Pete has had an eye on me here and there if I ever needed any help,” Poppleton says of the world’s most renowned teacher, who has contenders likes Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy in his charge. “I’ve not really used him that much he’s such a busy man.

“Hopefully they can introduce me to some players and I won’t feel completely out of my comfort zone. One of Pete’s players is Victor Perez. I was lucky enough to meet him a couple of months ago at the academy. He was a lovely bloke, so I’ll try and get a round with him.

“It will be nice to see him there and maybe play a few holes as his equal.”