Rotherham-based golfers embark on debut Open challenge

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Dreams have come true for two Rotherham golf professionals who tee off at The Open today.

Jonathan Thomson from Rotherham Golf Club, and Nick Poppleton from Wath Golf Club, both made it through tough qualifying events to reach one of the most famous tournaments in the world.

And both have stories to tell.

At 6ft 9ins Thomson became the tallest player in European Tour history when he came through the Qualifying School in 2017 and he was very nearly a winner in Denmark the following season.

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23-year-old Thomson now makes his major championship debut after finishing second to New Zealander Daniel Hillier in the 36-hole Final Qualifying at Hollinwell, where he is the attached professional.

Known as “Jigger” – it was coined because he often danced in his nappies as a toddler – he returned rounds of 69 and 65 to be one behind Hillier on 10 under par.

Thomson first picked up a club at the age of five at Rotherham Golf Club, where he practised alongside a promising group of youngsters including future Masters winner Danny Willett (who is also in the field for The Open).

He then battled leukaemia for five years, but was still able to work on his golf game after having to give up impact sports.

In January last year he equalled a long-standing world record for the most consecutive birdies as he recorded a phenomenal nine in a row on the Portugal Pro Tour.

Poppleton goes off in the final group today at St George’s in Kent.

He was a dominant three-stroke winner of the Final Qualifying competition at West Lancashire on June 29, impressive rounds of 65 and 69 taking him to 10 under par.

It came only two days after he returned a one-under 71 for joint 15th spot and had just a single stroke to spare in surviving the 18-hole Regional Qualifying on the same course.

The 27-year-old was the 2018 winner of the Brabazon Trophy English Amateur stroke play title at Frilford Heath, beating rising South African star Wilco Nienaber by chipping in at the second play-off hole after they had tied on 16-under-par totals that were only one outside the tournament record. Nienaber actually lipped out with his chip as he tried to stay alive.

Poppleton went on to represent Britain and Ireland’s amateurs against Continental Europe later the same year and since turning professional two years ago he has played on the EuroPro Tour, finishing second at the IFX Championship in May.

Lockdown meant taking a step back from the game in order to support his partner who works for the NHS. He has also taken on work as a delivery driver for a supermarket.

Talking to the PGA Euro ProTour, Nick said: “I used it as a rest period. Obviously with my partner working in the NHS, we were more worried about her being healthy – and her work has been stressful – so golf has taken a back seat and really given me sort of an eye-opening experience, and taught me some good life lessons that golf is not the be all and end all.

“Her coming home after having a tough day is literally miles apart from me coming home after having a tough day. It gives you perspective.

“Where my golf ball goes doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve got a good group of people at home. I’ve got a good support unit. I’ve got a good dog. I’m quite happy now.”

And as if reaching the event wasn’t enough, earlier this week, Nick put his name down for a practice round only to find himself playing alongside Phil Mickelson and Bryson Dechambeau – two giants of the game – telling them about playing at Wath and at Pete Cowen’s academy in Rotherham.

Images: Rocket Yard Sports / twitter

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