Nick Poppleton: Sheffield golfer swaps shifts at Iceland for The Open Championship
Few would think driving a supermarket delivery van, instead of practising on the greens and fairways, would help prepare you to take on the world's best golfers at The Open Championship.
But Sheffield’s Nick Poppleton believes his time away from the sport during the coronavirus pandemic has made him better equipped to deal with the challenges of competing professionally – by putting them into context.
With courses shut, the 27-year-old from Wharncliffe Side – who reached golf’s oldest tournament through qualifying - took a step back from golf last year to support his partner of five years, Amber, who works as a radiographer at Sheffield Children's Hospital.
After turning professional in 2019, Nick currently plays on the EuroPro Tour, an entry-level Tour for professionals and a “means to an end,” in his words. The riches on offer are a far cry from the $11.5m prize fund at Royal St. George’s.
That meant finding work while he wasn’t playing golf, which came in the form of delivering shopping for Iceland at Fox Valley and fitting windows with a friend.
“It was more important to be a good partner than a good golfer in that period,” a humble Nick tells The Star.
"The most important thing in the first lockdown was making sure Amber was OK. Golf was secondary, when it comes to that it’s given me some good perspective.
"I feel a better person. I feel like I had some good experiences and a better perspective on what actually matters.”
That, he says, has helped him since returning to golf – and will stand him in good stead against the likes of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson when the four-day tournament gets underway on 15 July.
"I find it a lot easier to let go of poor results, which definitely helped me,” Nick adds, “I got more rounded as a player.
"It’s just a privilege to go out and play for a living. They [NHS staff] work themselves to the bone so you take your hat off to them.”
Wath Golf Club-based Nick decided to stick around at Iceland – and even had to request time off to play in front of bumper crowds of more than 30,000 fans a day.
"It’s just a Saturday shift now, I kept doing it because they were struggling for staff and you never know what might happen,” he says.
"It was fine, it’s just work. The people there were lovely. It’s just an honest living.”
With attention switched from groceries to golf, then, how does he plan to tackle the biggest tournament of his career to date?
"I’ll probably set more goals internally on the golf course and try to hit greens and fairways to help me score rather than saying ‘I want to finish twelfth or fifteenth’,” Nick says.
"It’s very much assess as you go on during the week.
"I don’t think it’ll sink in until I get there, I’ve never been to a major event. I’m lucky that I’ve got Pete [Cowen], my coach, who’s going to be with me to keep me on track.”
Nick will be joined at the final major of the season by fellow Sheffield golfers Matt Fitzpatrick, 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and amateur Sam Bairstow, who also came through qualifying.