What a difference a year has made in the life of Eddie Pepperell.
Last year he couldn’t do anything right, this year he can’t seem to do anything wrong.
That was certainly the case in the opening round of the $7 million Italian Open, the fifth event in the European Tour’s lucrative Rolex Series.
The Englishman is one of six players in a share for the lead on 7 under after returning a 64 around Golf Club Milano. He’s tied with fellow Englishman Matt Wallace, defending champion and home favorite Francesco Molinari, Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Sweden’s Alexander Bjork, and Welshman Jamie Donaldson.
Pepperell has five top 10s in his last six starts, including back-to-back third-place finishes in the Portugal Masters and KLM Open. He’s currently 20th on the money list with over $700,000 in earnings.
“I carried on the same form I’ve been in,” Pepperell said. “I probably putted a little better than I’ve done in the last few events, so that was really nice. Even though my results have been good lately, I’ve been missing some putts.
“I’ve hit very few shots where I’ve looked up and been surprised by the start line. I’m a big start line guy. If I can start the ball on line then I feel I can go on and play really good golf. When I’m not, then I’m struggling. Generally speaking, particularly with my irons, I’m starting the ball in quite a specific window and that gives me a lot of confidence.”
It’s a far cry from where Pepperell was at the end of last year. He finished 113th on the money list, lost his card and had to return to the Qualifying School. He admitted he’d fell out of love with golf.
“I experienced how difficult the game can be when you lose some confidence and you stand on a few tees and make mental errors and hit bad shots because of what’s going through your head,” he told Golfweek last year. “That had never happened to me before.
“I had a sense of fear and dread of not knowing where I’m going to hit my driver.”
What a difference a year makes.
“I don’t think I play off confidence,” he said after his opening 64 in Milan. “I’m really quite a reactive guy. Everyday I’m thinking a lot about the game and my swing, and just trying to focus hard. I don’t really think about just going out there and letting it happen. I still have to think, be non-complacent.”
There was nothing complacent about his performance in Milan.
Ditto for Molinari. The 34-year-old Italian returns to his home tour after a fantastic year on the PGA Tour. Molinari finished 37th in the FedEx Cup rankings with over $2.8 million in earnings. He had five top-10 finishes including second in the PGA Championship and sixth in the Players Championship.
“Obviously it was another good day,” Molinari said. “I started pretty much where I left off last year, so it was great.
“It’s great to see the crowds. I think there’s a nice buzz around the place and I’m happy and proud to be part of it.”
So is Eddie Pepperell.