Big Interview: Eddie Pepperell

Published:

*Note: Since we spoke to Eddie, he claimed his second European Tour title at the British Masters.


On the back of his best season ever, we attempt to find out what makes Eddie Pepperell tick

"I know where the 65 came from today. Last night, upon stepping down from the top of the bunk bed (of which Laurie was sharing with me), my boxers got caught and I gave myself, frankly, a tremendous wedgie. I was hopeless and stranded for a moment. It gave me perspective." - Eddie Pepperell on twitter 

If you follow the career of Eddie Pepperell – either on TV, online or via his Twitter feed (@PepperellEddie) you'll know he's not your average Tour player.

"I probably go over that edge sometimes. I don't care if people give me abuse because they don't agree with my opinion on something. Get over it. That's just life. So as long as I don't cross certain boundaries –which I never get into – the rest is just a joke. And Twitter is that side of me. I actually delete most of my tweets before I send them. I get that I'm probably not doing myself many favours commercially."

On the back of his best season yet, when he's won*, finished in the top 10 at The Open and almost found himself on Thomas Bjorn's Ryder Cup team, we caught up with the 27-year-old to find out what makes him tick. ' 

You've had your most successful ever season on the European Tour this year. What do you put that down to?

I've made my good weeks count. That's been a big thing. Obviously doing well in Rolex Series events, like I did in Scotland, helps in terms of rankings points. There are other things that back up why I've performed so well. My stroke average is the best it's ever been, but mostly it's a follow-on from last year. The biggest difference has been winning for the first-time on the European Tour, at the Qatar Masters in February.

(he then followed it up with his second victory at the Sky Sports British Masters at Walton Heath in October)

What was the overriding feeling after you holed that winning putt?

It was mostly one of relief. It felt like a monkey off my back. I knew then that the next time I was in contention, there wouldn't be the question of 'can you convert? You've never won, so what are you going to do differently tomorrow so you do win?' To avoid having to face that question was a good thing because it was getting frustrating. It's funny, because it feels such a long time ago now.

It was a surprising win because my form wasn't very good. I started seeing a new coach that week, and it made a big difference. It was quite a stress-free win. I remember feeling very comfortable and confident on the Sunday morning, and there was almost a sense of inevitability that I was going to win.

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How has the relationship with your coach evolved since then? Do you still feel like you're reaping the benefits?

He's been good. I've taken the reins a lot more since July. After we won, I gave him a bit of time and said: 'Right, we'll work on some bits you want to work on.' I didn't get any better – I probably got worse if anything – so I said I want to go back and get a bit more control myself again. That's what I did well last year. I think now we're beginning to tie our ideas together quite well, but it might well be that I take on just 10 per cent of what my coach wants me to give. I'm driving the bus, and that 10 per cent is valuable and he's comfortable with that. We've got a good relationship and my game is pretty solid. He does have an interesting name, Simon Shanks. Fortunately, I haven't hit a shank since working with him!

Your track record shows you're not afraid to switch coaches. Why do it so frequently?

I have changed a fair few coaches to be fair. I always work back to Mike Walker. I was on and off with Mike for five years and there was always a reason why I left, as well as why I came back. That is probably meant in a complimentary way. I've learned a lot from my last few coaches, and I feel like I know enough that I can direct what I want and people can add their opinion on the side.

Everything came together at The Open, when you posted the best score in the clubhouse early on Sunday. Was there ever a moment when you thought five-under might be enough?

There was a time when I was sat in the players' lounge. I was sixth, but there was a five-way tie for first, one shot ahead of me. They all had around nines hole to play and I remember thinking, wow, this could happen. The worst thing was that it could be a play-off. I would rather have not won than gone through to a play-off. That would have meant sitting there for two or three hours, and the play-off would have been mental. I wouldn't have enjoyed that.

You also hit the headlines after you admitted to playing hungover during the final round. How much did you drink the night before?

I probably drunk a whole bottle of wine. I wasn't that drunk, but that's probably because it wasn't that great quality wine! You know what it's like when you drink not perfect wine, there's a bit more s*** in it? I joked and blamed IMG for that. Listen, I wasn't off until 11am the next day and I wasn't bothered how the Sunday went. I'd had a great tournament the week before [finishing second at the Scottish Open], and just wanted to go home. I didn't mind if I was a little hungover. As it turned out, it was a bit of a story.

You seem to play quite well when you're drunk...

I've done it in the past, let me tell you, and there have been good and bad! There are days when, rightly or wrongly, I'm not that bothered about the Sunday. So, I will go and have a nice dinner the night before, have a few drinks and socialise. That's what I did at The Open and it was quite funny in hindsight.

People appreciate your honesty and openness. Can you understand why people describe you as 'not the average tour pro?'

Yeah, because I'm not a sportsman who is trying to be perfect, or trying to be something they're not. I think I'm probably a reflection of people's imperfections, and you never hear a sportsman who says the things I might say. It doesn't mean to say we're not the same. We are the same. We're just very good at swinging a golf club. It's as simple as that. The fact that I'm willing to be honest is perhaps unusual.

Why do you think other golfers are reluctant to follow your lead?

The problem, I think, is the questions that are being asked. The better the question, the likelihood is you will get a better answer. There are some guys who don't think very deeply or shut off because they don't want to open up. But there are a lot of guys like me who have the potential to be open and honest, but maybe the questions being asked by golf presenters and reporters are not searching enough. Maybe that's the problem. There are certainly some interesting golfers out there, and uninteresting ones of course.

Do you make a point of trying to be golf's entertainer?

No, I just say what's on my mind. Maybe less actually, because if I did say everything that was on my mind then I probably would get fined. I respond the way I would talk to my friends. There is no boundary with me. That's a good thing on the whole. I'm the same with my Twitter on that front. I'm not too worried what people think. What's the worst that could happen? I don't think I'm a racist, I don't think I'm homophobic. I'm not sexist. I don't think I'm anything that's really going to be a problem, so I can effectively say what I want. The worst thing is that someone might not agree with me. I feel like I've been brought up well, and have well-rounded (ish) views on most things, so why be afraid to say what you think? It's who I am.

I don't think I have. I feel like I have a good relationship with all the guys. I hope that I do. I respect every single player. What about sponsors?

Potential sponsors, maybe. The irony is that anyone who comes up to me at a golf tournament says one of two things: I love your blog or I love your Twitter. I don't do it for effect, but it seems like the unanimous judgment is positive, right? And yet there are some sponsors out there unwilling to maybe take that risk on me, when each individual within that company would enjoy my Twitter. But when you bring them together, there is this invisible moral code almost that makes Eddie Pepperell's Twitter unpalatable. That doesn't really make any sense. It's just a little bit of fun.

Do you find it difficult being as positive and jovial when you're on the golf course?

I am pretty hard on myself. Since my levels have improved, my expectations have gone up. I would say I'm quite serious when it comes to my golf. I'm focused, but there is a side to me, away from the immediate aftermath of a shot, which is pretty chilled out. I don't live and die by every shot, and it doesn't seem to consume me the way it does other golfers. Some go on the golf course and turn into a different human being for five hours. I don't think that's me.

Do you think some of the hardships you've experienced have contributed to that as well?

I think you need to feel vulnerable to pull your finger out. I remember once I didn't even have enough money to pay for a hotel bill. My credit card was declined. I called my mum as an emergency. There was another time just after my rookie season on Tour. I had just bought a flat at the end of the year, but I had a really bad start to 2014. The week of the Spanish Open in April, I think I had 1,500 quid in my bank account. I remember thinking, wow, something needs to improve here, and then I went on a really good run. Those kind of hardships are really motivating.

Despite the many highs, would you say you have a love-hate relationship with golf?

I don't hate much of it. I love more than I hate, that's for certain! There's occasions on a golf course, at a golf tournament, where I do something that's so poor or I feel frustration so deep that I just go, I'm f****** sick of feeling like this. I think we all feel that, in our own ways in our own jobs. So, to a degree, yes, there is a love-hate relationship with golf. But I don't despise it.

How strong is that negativity when it takes hold?

I've had a couple of emotional lows this year, which I've never had in my life before. The Oman Open was one, the French Open was the other. I woke up on the Monday and was supposed to be flying to Paris that day, and I just had very, very little enthusiasm to do anything. The idea of going to a golf tournament was so uninspiring that I just pulled the plug. Call it what you want, but I felt like needed another week at home, with Jen and the dog. Something wasn't quite right mentally. Actually, that's not true. It wasn't not quite right; it was really not right. There are a number of days when I wake up and don't want to do something, but that wasn't how I felt. It was like, no, no, I really don't want to go to the airport, and travel to play golf.

Was it a case of everything getting on top of you?

I don't really know. When I look back now, I wasn't even playing that much golf, so it wasn't that. I was just feeling pretty low. Do you ever get gripped by anxiety? I don't feel that much anxiety, but I do feel a lot of frustration. I missed two cuts in a row this year, in Germany and Ireland, both by a shot. I bogeyed the last both times and both times I knew I needed to par it. In Ireland, after doing that for a second week in a row, I was a bit hacked off. But golf tour life can be brutal. Because you're so passionate, you want to be successful and it's really challenging. The only remedy is to get better. It's a cold-blooded approach, but it's enough of a motivating factor for me. When it comes to results, money and rankings, I don't care about any of that. I tend to react worse when I do. I've played pretty well off the back of being in a place that's a little tougher. That's not driven from wanting more money, but purely down to needing more money. There is a difference. This year I've been very motivated, despite being in a good position financially. I'm in the best position I've ever been, which for many people would be enough. But I don't seem to be getting complacent, which has happened in the past when I've earned big cheques and taken my foot off the gas. There is now a deeper drive to keep my performance up.

Off the course, you are a member of the European Tour Tournament Committee. What's that been like as an experience?

Really good. We only have four meetings a year, and there are 12 or 13 players on the committee. I've spent a bit more time with Keith [Pelley] and tried to understand his vision and where he wants the Tour to go. What I have found interesting is seeing Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood in that environment. Thomas is quite different. On the course he's just miserable but away from the course he's got so much to give and is very intelligent. It's the same with Westwood. You can see they care and to see that from legends of the Tour is reassuring and has helped me to see things differently.

It's been an interesting, political experience and I now realise a basic decision isn't basic. It's quite complicated and there are winners and losers. But I'm enjoying it, being part of the discussions and airing my views. I've got one more year on it and then maybe I'll re-elect myself. I mean put myself up [laughs], I don't think I can re-elect myself! I might try. I might be chairman by then!

You've been quite vocal about how the Rolex Series is structured? Why is that?

What I said was that someone can win three, €1m events and still earn less than someone who comes second in one Rolex Series event. Therefore, when you look at the Race to Dubai standings, I'm not sure how much of an accurate reflection it is on the golf that has been played. That's up for debate. This year, I'm that guy who has come second. I've managed to back it up with some other good performances, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't mask the fact that there are some huge distortions in the Race to Dubai ranking. Luckily, this year I'm on the right end of it.

Have you exceeded your own expectations?

Not when I look at the level of golf I've played across the year. My stroke average from August through to December last year was in the 60s. This is what my stroke average is now. If anything, there have been times when I have been disappointed. I've had good weeks, but also bad weeks. That's why the rankings are not an accurate reflection. But I think I'm good enough to maintain my level of performance and if I can do that, my Race to Dubai ranking will be higher than it has been historically. How high depends on when I happen to play my best golf. Hopefully it will continue to come at the right time.

If you did set yourself some goals for next year, what would they be?

I guess if I stay in the world's top 50, it would be to put in some good performances in all of the Majors and the WGCs. But I've already done that to a degree at The Open and US Open at Erin Hills last year, where I finished tied 16th. That was a big deal for me back then. My main focus now, I guess, is on improving my level, so I need to improve my putting. I know if I can do that, I will be a world-class golfer.