It was as if the 19-year-old Eddie Pepperell had been handed a truth drug prior to giving his views on what the English Golf Union was doing for its players. In a question and answer session at the EGU’s annual Coaching Conference at Woodhall Spa, Peter Mattsson, the Union’s director of coaching, pressed the teenager to say precisely what he thought, and the lad obliged.
When asked which – the World Amateur Golf Ranking and the Council of National Golf Unions – handicapping system should be used for whittling down the fields for amateur events, he made it clear he did not think much of either. “I don’t know which is worse,” he volunteered, before deciding that the WAGR were probably the lesser of two evils.
On the matter of why he had given up playing for Berk, Bucks and Oxon, Pepperell said that it was because he could no longer get himself “up” for matches, and that he was concerned that he might let everyone down, including himself. When quizzed further, he explained that he did not want to spend the weekends in the company of his county colleagues. Presumably because their attitude does not marry with his own level of intensity.
His view on coaching? Seemingly oblivious to the coaches sitting in front of him, this winner of the 2010 Welsh Open Amateur said he uses a coach and he moves on: “I’ve been through four or five. Every coach has been good for me and given me something, but it’s a matter of natural progression.”
Whatever else it did, the 19-year-old Pepperell’s preference for the truth, added a certain weight to his more kindly comments.
In his eyes, the best thing about the EGU is the way they pull out all the stops to send their top amateurs overseas: “What it does,” said Pepperell, “is to prepare you for the real world. It means that when you turn professional, all the travelling isn’t going to come as a shock.”
When Mattsson asked the young man if he could spell out any benefits attached to the coaching EGU had provided for him, the director must have breathed a sigh of relief when Pepperell replied, “There have been tons. Far too many to mention. I would much rather have had the coaching than not.”
As for his views on EGU training overall, he pointed to the vast number of good young players coming through the system. “The EGU can’t be doing too much wrong,” he said.
The Union picked out Pepperell as their player representative at the conference because they like that he has a mind of his own. For instance, after he had returned from what was a disappointing week at the Eisenhower Trophy, he wasted no time in heading to Woodhall Spa and explaining to Mattsson and John Petrie, the CEO of the EGU, that he was going to turn down their invitation to a five-week sortie in Australia. He said he needed to stay at home and work on his game.
Thanks to his new regimen, he believes he could be ready to play as a professional in May – and never mind that this would mean missing out on the Walker Cup. Officialdom will surely try to change his mind, reminding him how such as Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey played in the match five times between them. At the same time, they are unlikely to be impressed by his argument that a player’s game can go downhill amid the stressful build-up to the match.
No one would pretend that Woodhall Spa is in the right spot for a national sports centre in that it is miles away from anywhere. Yet few would argue that there could be anywhere better for players like Pepperell to take a long hard look at themselves and get down to some serious practice.
The two Woodhall Spa courses are among the best in the country, while the practice facilities, with particular reference to the short-game area, are second to none. The same applies to the variety and level of expertise on which the EGU are able to draw.
The Coaching Conference was a case in point.
The professionals were treated to a lecture from Dave Alred, Johnny Wilkinson’s kicking coach in the realm of rugby and the man behind Luke Donald’s recent advance. One message Alred wanted to get across was that the more the coaches expand their own knowledge, the further they can take their pupils. This was something many of those in the room seemed already to have taken on board.
Metaphorically, if not literally, the English Golf Union is in a good place.