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U.S. ADAPTIVE OPEN
Persistent Popert Will Keep Plugging in Round 3 July 19, 2022 | VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Kipp Popert, a 24-year-old Englishman with cerebral palsy, had a difficult finish to his round but remains in contention. (Jeff Haynes/USGA)

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It’s a simple mantra: “Press on.” Whether he’s had a difficult day on the course, or practice is a struggle, or he’s facing another surgery on his foot, Kipp Popert continues to press on. It’s the only path he knows.

“It’s a really important saying that I absorbed straightaway from my granddad,” said Popert, 24, of England. “So if I make an 8 on the last hole, I’ll press on. Same thing if I birdie four holes in a row, or if my foot is sore and I’m struggling to walk the course.”

Press on.

Popert did indeed make an 8 on his 18th hole of Round 2 of the inaugural U.S. Adaptive Open Championship on Tuesday, but he knows the game is far from over. He will enter the final round on Course No. 6 at Pinehurst Resort on Wednesday in the same position he started Round 2, a tie for fourth place. He stands seven strokes behind the leader, Simon Lee, of the Republic of Korea, in the quest to be the first to have their name etched on the trophy.

“I played really solid,” said Popert, who finished at 3-over-par 75 after an opening 74 on Monday. “I didn’t have my best stuff, and obviously the last hole wasn’t great. But I’ve been through worse. It’s all good.”

Popert, of Kent in southeast England, was born 10 weeks premature and was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which affects his lower body. He began playing golf at age 3, and has endured 10 surgeries on the way to becoming one of the world’s best golfers with a disability.

Last August, he shot a final-round, bogey-free 66 at Fairmont St. Andrews to win the EDGA Hero Open, part of a series of 36-hole events for golfers with disabilities that is played on the same layout with the same course conditions as a tandem DP World Tour event. He followed that up with a victory in the Golf for the Disabled (G4D) Tour Betfred British Masters in May.

If Popert ever considered not pressing on, it might have been a little over a decade ago.

“I started getting foot deformities when I was about 10,” he said. “I had major surgeries to correct the alignment issues – one when I was 16 on my right foot and another at 19 on my left. They basically broke the bones and realigned them, and that really helped. The pain that I used to get in my feet, that was the toughest bit.”

Then again, Popert admits that his own tenacity has perhaps worked against him at times.

“I don’t give up, as people find out,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes when I’d be practicing, I would work so hard that when I got home, I couldn’t leave the sofa. But I wouldn’t change it; I could have sat on the sofa all day instead and not done anything. My mom and dad never really had to wake me up in the morning and tell me to do my physio, because I saw where I wanted to get to in golf and know that I have to look after my body to do that.”

Popert has taken advantage of the proximity of EDGA (formerly the European Disabled Golf Association) events to the DP World Tour, having played some golf with Sam Horsfield and Andy Sullivan.

“To be around the top players, and then to be in events where the rough is really high, the pins are really tight, it’s only developing my game and my course management better,” said Popert, who plans to turn professional someday. “I also learn just by watching those players. I’m learning a lot, and I’m progressing nicely.”

Another incredible opportunity to watch, absorb and listen happened last Monday, when Popert was part of the Celebration of Champions ahead of the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews. Popert played that four-hole exhibition with five-time British Open and 1982 U.S. Open champion Tom Watson, as well as British Open champions Stewart Cink and Paul Lawrie.

“It was absolutely awesome, being with Tom Watson,” said Popert. “He gave me a few tips, and I was just trying to be a sponge and soak it all up. I flushed my first tee shot and then hit the next shot to about 4 feet on the first with my dad on the bag. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Popert also reveled in a 45-minute lesson he received that day from six-time major champion Lee Trevino. “Money can’t buy that. He sees the game the way I do, keeps it really simple, and he’s awesome.”

Popert knows coming back to win on Wednesday is a daunting challenge, but not surprisingly, he isn’t planning to shy away from it.

“I’ll see where the leaders are at and then get to that number as quickly as I can and keep pressing on from there,” he said. “I’ve putted really good from mid-range this week, and I know if I can just get a bit [closer] proximity to the hole, we could have a nice low one. There’s a lot of people back home rooting for me, and if I end up with the trophy tomorrow, that’s brilliant.”

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.

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