With an astonishingly mature performance which belied his 21 years, Eddie Pepperell announced his arrival as a potential star of the future at last week’s ALLIANZ Côtes d’Armor Bretagne.
The baby-faced Englishman went into the €160,000 event with a lowly category which would afford him limited playing opportunities, but ended the week clutching a coveted Challenge Tour card and with his prospects looking a good deal brighter.
Starting the final day four shots off the lead, Pepperell’s hopes of securing a first professional title appeared dead and buried after two bogeys in his first five holes.
But the 2010 Welsh Amateur Open Stroke Play Champion rallied with a birdie for the fourth day in succession at the seventh hole and, despite a stiffening breeze in northern France, he notched a further three gains to race home in 32 strokes and set the clubhouse target on three under par.
At that point, with overnight leader Carlos Aguilar of Spain struggling and his closest rival Jeppe Huldahl of Denmark two shots adrift with only three holes left to play, Pepperell must have thought the title, and with it the €25,600 winner’s cheque, was in the bag.
But after Huldahl had birdied the 17th hole, Pepperell refocused and returned to the practice green, from where he could hear the cheers which greeted the Dane’s successful birdie putt from the fringe of the 18th green.
With Huldahl having won the 2009 ISPS Handa Wales Open, most young professionals playing only their eighth Challenge Tour event might have felt intimidated in the heat of a ‘mano-a-mano’ play-off battle.
But Pepperell refused to be cowed and, after Huldahl had found trouble off the 18th tee, he held his nerve admirably with an arrow-like approach to 15 feet.
Two putts later, Pepperell was celebrating his first title less than year after turning professional, and contemplating the possibility of securing a place on The European Tour with indecent haste.
He said: “On the back nine I knew I needed to commit. Standing on the 11th tee, I told myself that I’ve really got to go for my shots, because I needed a big performance. I knew it was in me, so it was just a case of getting in the right mindset.
“My approach shot to the 14th was probably the best five iron I’ve hit in my entire life. When I rolled in the putt and got to three under, I thought that if I could par my way in, I’d stand a decent chance of winning. After I made the four-footer for par on the last, I thought I’d done enough. All credit to Jeppe for taking it to a play-off though, even if he did then hand me a life-line with his drive.
“But I feel like I deserved to win, because I didn’t really miss a shot on the back nine. I think I only missed two greens coming home, and even then only by a yard or two. So I’m proud of the way I coped under pressure, and it’s testament to the work I’ve done with my coach and my trainer.
“I’ve won as an amateur but I’d never been in that position as a professional before, so it’s a huge boost to my confidence to know that I can compete with and beat players with a lot more experience than me. Peter Baker’s played in The Ryder Cup, so to some out on top of players of his quality is huge.
“I knew other players weren’t going to let me have the tournament – I had to go out there and win it, which is exactly what I did. It gives me so much confidence to take through the rest of the season, and hopefully I can get another win on the board and stay near the top of the Rankings. Before the tournament my main aim was to get a Challenge Tour card for next season, but now my goals have changed dramatically.”