Remarkably, though, he is the second best player in the world among golfers with a disability. Even more noteworthy, he qualified for this week’s Amateur Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes and St Annes Old Links – understood to be the first golfer with a disability to do so. A first-round 80 refused to take the smile off his face. He is an inspiration to many.
“I didn't ever really think I would play in The Amateur because of all my operations in key development years as a golfer,” he admitted. “From 14, 15 to 18, I was having operations, especially around my calves because they were tight and contracted. Then, because of the way I walk and the pressure that I put through my feet, I developed a massive foot deformity and all the bones in my feet moved and I had to realign them. So it's awesome to be here and I'm relishing it.”
A memorable return
In a way, the Englishman has come full circle. As a three-year-old, he attended The Open in 2001 at Royal Lytham & St Annes when David Duval triumphed and made something of a name for himself. He has done so again.
“I came here with my granddad when I was three and I was hitting some wedge shots with a plastic club towards a bucket,” he recalled. “Ken Brown (from the BBC) saw me hitting and I think I must have hit a handful of collections quite close to this bucket and they said, ‘oh, can we film him’.
“At that age, he wouldn't have known I had Cerebral Palsy. Since my balance was off, it could have just been a thing for a young kid. A long story short is that they actually ended up filming me for 45 minutes. The BBC had that footage and I actually saw it this year. It was quite cool; I was in the promo for The Open.”
The Wildernesse player won the EDGA Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews in August last year, which was allied to the DP World Tour’s Hero Open, before then winning the first two events this year on the newly-formed G4D Tour – The British Masters at the Belfry and the Porsche European Open at Green Eagle in Germany, both after play-offs. His form helped him come through the first Pre-Qualifier in The Amateur’s history, sealing his place in this week’s 127th staging.
Attitude to succeed
He added, “It's definitely the strongest field I've ever played in. But I feel like I'm very well collected, and every tournament I do, it doesn't matter if it's disability, golf, able-bodied golf, if it's a major down the line, I'll put the same attitude and focus into every shot.
“I'm very pleased with the start I've had to the year. I had an operation in December after the DP World Tour event. Basically my right foot was in quite a lot pain. Last season, I basically had steroid injections a handful of times a year into my right big toe to reduce the pain.
“Just before The Brabazon Trophy, I went into hospital and had the steroid injection so I could play. And that's just my mentality. I want to be the best golfer full-stop. When I finish my career, I believe and hope it will be a nice long one, as I'd love to be someone known as being one of the best over-achievers.”
Popert, who went to the University of Birmingham and did applied golf management studies, looks back bravely but also with a determination to go forward.
“I remember going into the surgeries thinking what I would achieve in golf,” he continued. “Getting those foot corrections meant that I'm able to rotate and turn through the ball a bit better. So golf has been a huge part of me waking up in the morning, doing all my physio and looking after my body since I was three or four. It's a very motivating thing in my life.”
Given his form, Popert – who sits behind Brendan Lawlor on the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability (WR4GD) – was handed a first-ever England call-up for the European Team Champions for Golfers with a Disability last week. It clashed, though, with The Amateur Pre-Qualifier and his decision to tee up in Lancashire was vindicated.
“I never realised there were other golfers like me or other golfers with disability,” he said. “What the G4D Tour and Tony Bennett and his team at EDGA have done for me has been superb.
“The first event I did was the EDGA Algarve Open in 2019. It was awesome to be in a room where everyone else has used golf to help them through their tough times. It was just really nice to be in a room that everyone sort of understands or can appreciate what each individual has had to go through.”