He’s well aware that his jokey persona has led some circles of the golfing media to christen him a party-boy, but Eddie Pepperell insists he’s nothing of the sort. Here he talks exclusively to Golf Australia about courting controversy, career ambitions, and his willingness to accept his flaws.
Eddie Pepperell may only be 27, but there’s something about him that smacks of an old pro long before the money flooded in to mould the sport of golf into the shiny, sponsored, TV-ready creation it is today.
Self-depreciating, sardonic, and sincere in turns, Pepperell has garnered himself a fair amount of attention for his conduct both on- and off- the course. While more conservative fans of the sport may have sneered at his admittance that a hangover was a contributing factor to carding a 67 in the final round at last year’s Open Championship, there are many others who have taken this unconventional athlete to heart.
And yes, says Pepperell, he was suffering the after effects of one too many wines at Carnoustie, but a cursory glance at some of his other exploits at the same course can paint a very different picture.
“I’ve had it all really,” he jokes. “One Dunhill Links I played Carnoustie on the second day, and I snapped my putter on the green. I had to play 15 holes with a 2-iron. I was 12 over through 10, and thinking I could shoot 90, but I ended up playing the best three holes of my life, ended up driving it about 40 feet and then tapped it in with a two iron – that’s probably still the best 3 I’ve ever made in my career.”
The question of how many beverages Pepperell had partaken in before that particular show of golfing strength isn’t raised. And even when the conversation does swing towards the media’s preoccupation with his alcoholic habits, Pepperell is typically even-handed in his assessment.
“I drink more at golf tournaments actually, I don’t drink too much when I’m at home,” he smiles. “I think that started at 2016 – which was when I started playing badly so I guess I was using it as a bit of a crutch. I won’t judge either way as a good or bad thing, but it’s probably not a good thing though if I’m being honest.
“Since then I’ve found a glass or two every night before a tournament is quite relaxing, it clears my head and I don’t see any damage in it. It’s funny what happened after the Open, where people were trying to show me as a party boy, it couldn’t be further from the truth.”
So, Pepperell is not a “party boy.” But nor is he, by his own admittance, a “proper athlete” – that moniker he reserved for the likes of Tiger Woods at the same Open presser. He’s the well-spoken, wine-loving golfer with British and Qatar Masters wins to his name and a bright future in golf ahead of him. More than that, perhaps, is his natural candidness and easy-going nature that marks him out as an amicable interviewee.
“It was as much a dig at myself as it was a compliment to Tiger,” he says of that well-publicised “proper athlete” remark. “That’s not to say that I’m not athletic, I’m not to his level and I don’t waste my time and energy on trying to get to that level.
“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat when you’re a golfer and it’s primarily a skill-based game and a technical game. It’s becoming more physical as it gets more modern.
“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat when you’re a golfer and it’s primarily a skill-based game and a technical game.” – Eddie Pepperell
“I see modern kids come out on Tour who bomb the ball a long, long way and they are physically very strong but they’re not winning out on Tour; golf is still primarily an art form and you’ve got to be very skilled still about it. I’ve changed my focus over the last couple of years making sure I’m on top of that and the physical side takes more of a backseat and I just make sure I’m healthy and I’m not restricting myself. If I’m living, then I’m generally pretty happy to be honest.”
Pepperell’s personal game-plan appears to be paying off. Having recently added his native Masters to the Qatar victory he won at the start of last year, the Brit is starting to show some of the on-course prowess that led to him taking runner-up in the Boys Amateur Championship during his fledgling career. But that was a decade ago, and Pepperell is now playing in a multi-billion-dollar game, with both professional pride and extortionate purses on the line.
“Golf is like every other industry in that at the top it’s very healthy, but there’s no real foundation,” he says of the modern game. “There seems to have been an erosion of the middle ground across the board.
“I’m reminded of that chart with Tiger Woods’ wins and the correlation between that and golf participation, and there was none.
There was a correlation between prize money and TV and Tiger Woods’ career, but not participation and I guess that’s what I’m looping to, that while the top may be looking phenomenal – and it is, with Tiger doing what he’s doing now as well, the top is so, so good – but there are a bunch more macro and socio-ecomonic factors which will determine the future of golf on a much more local level. I don’t know what that future looks like, but it’ll certainly be interesting.”
RIGHT: Pepperell’s victory in the Qatar Masters was a turning point in his career. PHOTO: Getty Images.
To hear a sportsman talk about “macro and socio-economic factors” and graphical correlations may seem surprising, but for Pepperell, such an interest is par for the course. As any reader of his online blog – and there are many of them – can attest, the frank-talking doesn’t just come to a sudden stop when Pepperell is outside of a microphone’s range.
“I had a lot going on in my mind, I was reading books all the time, and I was getting too distracted so I thought I’d just get it all out in a creative way and that’s what I ended up doing,” he says of his blog. “Then as time went on I became a bit more popular as a golfer and a bit more well-known and I guess the same thing happened with the blog, so that’s how it started.”
For someone who didn’t pick up a book until their late teens – “I hated school,” he admits. “The first book I read was Laurence Dallaglio’s, It’s in the Blood, autobiography” – Pepperell has chalked up a fair amount of reading material in his time behind the keyboard. These days, his tastes have altered somewhat as he prefers podcasts to books, and he even looks back on the header of his webpage with a hint of chagrin: “I wrote that line – Who Says Golf is Everything? – years ago, I haven’t updated that page since I started. I would probably write something much ruder up there now, I guess I just haven’t been bothered to update it.”
Of course, currently speaking his mind away from the course is made that much easier by Pepperell’s lack of sponsorship. If that were to change however, would the public see Pepperell’s opinions chained by an overbearing financier or a brand looking to avoid any precarious PR?
“That’s always tricky and will probably be tricky for the rest of my career I guess,” he agrees. “I’m in no way commercially orientated, and how that then appears to the sponsor is also something I have to bear in mind. Deep down I don’t think my blog could ever get me into too much trouble, but my Twitter probably could at some point!
“We are all pretty imperfect, and we live in a world where everyone expects us to be perfect, so I think we should be celebrating the fact that people can be pretty s**t as much as pretty good. I enjoy it when people c**k up in a way, and I try not to judge people because we all have that capacity every day. We all have the capacity to do good things obviously, but as we see on the news pretty much every day, someone has the capacity to do bad things too. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad or evil person, or uncommercial, or ‘hashtag cancelled’, that infuriates me. I hope the pendulum swings the other way a bit.”
Is he that pendulum, then?
“I’m not obviously that pendulum because I’m just f**king Eddie Pepperell,” he laughs. “But if someone can look at me and think ‘I like Eddie because his Twitter isn’t perfect,’ that’s what I want, because I want people to know there is a side to me that is different and not perfect.”
“We live in a world where everyone expects us to be perfect, so I think we should be celebrating the fact that people can be pretty s**t as much as pretty good.” – Eddie Pepperell
It’s also a side that, rightly or wrongly, gets Pepperell’s name in the press. Is he worried at all, then, that those off-hand remarks and unwillingness to toe the line at times may end up overshadowing his golfing achievements?
“I can’t control that split of me as a golfer and me as a person, and I think that split is going to happen because people these days love a story,” he explains. “People almost always have questions about my blog as opposed to my golf and that’s entirely natural when I’m not really achieving anything different on the course just yet.
“Off the course I’m doing something different and that’s going to be picked up on because that’s the modern way the media works and I’m not for or against that, it is what it is. I’m not really bothered what people focus on in that sense, I’m expecting it.”
Perhaps Pepperell’s nine-stroke victory at Walton Heath will shift that attention yet again.
For his own part, Pepperell has his eye on a spot in a future Ryder Cup, even if he’s the first to admit that he’s not quite earned the right to be representing his continent just yet.
“It is an ambition of mine, of course, but I looked at the guys who were on the team last year and I can’t see one of them that makes me think ‘oh, they’re not going to be there in two years’,” he says. “And there’s a number of guys who aren’t in the team who are very good at golf.
“It’s never going to be simple to make a Ryder Cup team in the future – not that it was in the past – but I know that if I keep doing what I’m doing what I’ve done for the last 18 months and keep doing that for the next two years I’ve got a very good shot, I think people are expecting me to give it a go, but I’ve not played as many majors as a lot of these guys; I’ve got to prove myself at a higher level yet to merit any Ryder Cup experience, but we shall see.”
For now, he’ll have to settle for his place on the European Tour and a chance to add a couple more wins to his resume. There’s also sure to be a couple more instances for Pepperell to show off that uniquely counter-culture charm. Perhaps the sport needs more personalities like him – even if his designs, when handed the imaginary reins of Tour Director, would see him first to flounder.
“I’d allow a tournament where anything goes,” he laughs. “It would never happen, but it would certainly be entertaining. It’d have to be only for a couple of days though, because I wouldn’t make the cut!”
EDDIE PEPPERELL SHORT SHOTS
What was the last book you read?
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I really enjoyed that, but it’s totally bizarre and abstract and you’ve got a talking cat in Russia but you somehow think you can relate it back to your life and I thought that was beautiful. Problem is, is that you read books like that and you end up going a little crazy. Someone like Sting would read books like that I guess, and he’s just somehow a little bit odd, and I don’t want to be odd when I’m 40 or 50.
Are you into e-books or old-fashioned paper copies?
No, it wouldn’t be e-books, it would be old-fashioned, yes; I like real books!
In your learned opinion, which wine and chocolate complement each other best?
It’s a good question. Dark chocolate, you have to say, goes best with red wine. Dark chocolate, however, is far too healthy for me, so I always go for Thorntons. The wine has to be a Bordeaux; the smell of a Bordeaux is definitely one of the finer things in life!
Any plans to start your own wine label?
No chance of an Eddie Pepperell wine label, there’s no money in it. And I’d eat all the chocolate if I was to become a chocolatier! I’m happy just buying it occasionally.
Any plans to play in Australia? You’ll love our reds…
I’ve never been or played golf in Australia, and from what I hear the golf is just amazing down there so that would be the obvious choice really. I’ve played in America and great places in Europe, Leopard Creek (South Africa) is one of my favourite places on the planet, but certainly to go to Australia would be a real highlight.